The Linguist

The Linguist 58,5 - October/November 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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a hisTory of pracTice Interpreting in court cases has been carried out by deaf people for centuries 24 The Linguist Vol/58 No/5 2019 FEATURES As deaf people are increasingly employed as BSL interpreters, Robert Adam looks at the additional skills they bring to the role compared with hearing professionals T he role of sign language interpreter has been performed by family members, colleagues, missioners (members of the clergy), friends and acquaintances for millennia, with the first record of sign language interpreting at the Old Bailey dating back to 1771, when a fellow servant interpreted for James Saytuss (or 'Dumb O Jemmy'). 1 This role is increasingly being done by deaf people, though this is not new: there is a record of a deaf man brokering communication for his deaf wife in Massachusetts in the 17th century. 2 So what is a deaf sign language interpreter or translator? Patrick Boudreault offers the following definition: 3 1 A deaf bilingual who has skills in a spoken and a signed language. This could be a person who works from written English into sign language (from an autocue, subtitles on a screen, etc) or from spoken language/ lipreading. This area of work is seen as interlingual, so it is possible to apply the National Occupational Standards on interpreting. 2 A deaf bilingual who works between two sign languages. The deaf practitioner interprets between two sign languages in a conference or community interpreting setting. It may be that the client has migrated to a country with a different sign language or that the client is a professional working with deaf people in another country or giving a lecture in a sign language. Again, this area of work is interlingual. 3 A deaf practitioner who works with two varieties of one sign language. The practitioner watches a feed in, say, British Sign Language (BSL) and then presents it in a different variety of BSL. This type of work is specific to sign languages and is intralingual, so not covered by the national standards. Today, deaf people are increasingly being employed as sign language interpreters and translators. They make a unique contribution, especially considering that deaf people have historically been seen as the client group for such services. Deaf interpreters are required in particular when a client uses their own signs or an older variety of sign language that is not taught in interpreter training programmes; a client is deafblind and requires hand-over- hand or close vision signing; or a client has cognitive or mental health issues. This is often because a deaf practitioner has more experience with the variety of sign languages used by these client groups, and more experience with negotiating meaning in a hearing and speaking world. There has been some discussion on terminology here. Interpreters who are not deaf are often referred to as 'sign language interpreters' or just 'interpreters'. Even though deaf practitioners also work as interpreters, they are variously called 'relay interpreters', 'deaf relay interpreters' or 'Certified Deaf Interpreters' (in the US). It is useful to consider the impact of using these terms, which sub-categorise deaf practitioners. Recognising the ghostwriters As minority communities, deaf communities have been described as "collective communities", 4 referring to a shared history, culture, the arts and, in some cases, spirituality. In these communities, skills such as carpentry, sewing, motor mechanics, and also interpreting and translation, have been shared and exchanged. A deaf person would be accompanied at medical, banking and legal appointments by another deaf person, for example; or bring official correspondence to a deaf club (i.e. a social club that was often part of a mission or service for deaf people) so that another deaf person could translate it into sign language and write down their dictated reply. My co-researchers and I have referred to individuals who have done such translation and interpreting tasks as 'ghostwriters'. 5 It is Interpreting by sight

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