READING 2b: Witnessing Inaccurate Interpreting

Topic Progress:

What to do if you notice an interpreter making errors?

Many people do not realize the challenges involved in sign language interpretation, especially when it comes to interpreting from ASL to Spoken English.  When you are just a bystander, it may look deceptively simple. Sometimes if an interpreter seems to be making errors, ASL students may feel superior and harshly judge the “poor” performance of the working interpreter.  Only when you experience being in the “hot seat” as an interpreter, can you truly appreciate the complexity of the task.

Just a few of the challenges in providing accurate interpretation include:

1) multiple meanings for one sign (e.g., many locations have the same sign – Berkeley/Boston, San Francisco/Santa Fe, Los Angeles/Louisiana),

2) Negation made at the end of the signed utterance,

3) the subtleties contained in the handshape, movement, and non manual signals of ASL signs,

4) A large corpus of “insider knowledge” is assumed to be shared, such as name signs, acronyms, regional variations in signs, etc.

Since interpreting is often more an art than a science, there is not always just one way to interpret an ASL utterance into English. Two interpreters might choose different words to represent a certain sign and both translations would still retain the spirit and content of the ASL signer’s remark. Yet, it often happens that the interpreter does not pick the best English equivalent to the signed ASL utterance.

If you notice an interpreter working from ASL to English whose choice of words is not what you consider accurate, there are two questions to ask yourself:

1) Is this an error there that absolutely needs to be corrected?

2) What is the best way to achieve this correction?

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