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Old 23rd May 2020, 10:27 AM   #1
alfaniner
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Question about ASL (American Sign Language) translators on TV

With so many briefings popping up on TV, I see some speakers (or the networks) provide a feed of an ASL translator on the screen.

I have a serious question -- I'm ignorant on this subject. I can see the hand signs sometimes correlating to the narrative. But I often notice the translator making what I think are... odd... facial expressions.

My question -- is the facial expression part of the translation? Or is it just a personal expression on the part of the translator (much like advanced musicians who often make weird faces when playing)?

It sometimes strikes me like Chevy Chase used to do, making funny faces behind a newscaster while the reporter is doing the story. (Yes, I know that is nowhere near the intent of the one who is very likely a volunteer!)
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Old 23rd May 2020, 10:37 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by alfaniner View Post
With so many briefings popping up on TV, I see some speakers (or the networks) provide a feed of an ASL translator on the screen.

I have a serious question -- I'm ignorant on this subject. I can see the hand signs sometimes correlating to the narrative. But I often notice the translator making what I think are... odd... facial expressions.

My question -- is the facial expression part of the translation? Or is it just a personal expression on the part of the translator (much like advanced musicians who often make weird faces when playing)?

It sometimes strikes me like Chevy Chase used to do, making funny faces behind a newscaster while the reporter is doing the story. (Yes, I know that is nowhere near the intent of the one who is very likely a volunteer!)
Your assumption is correct. The facial expressions are part of the translation.

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/...ok-so-animated
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Old 23rd May 2020, 11:15 AM   #3
Chris Haynes
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Yes, facial expression is a very important part of ASL. They form the description adjective to the "sentence." For instance showing the sign for "anger" while smiling would be kind of sarcastic.

My oldest kid was nonverbal in preschool, his first expressive language was ASL (started when he was two years old). I took some some ASL classes, and learned that the sentence structure is closer to Chinese and that the sign of giving birth is very graphical. Also, I found it useful to use sign with his younger siblings. It is much easier to tell them it is time to leave when they were on the other side of the swimming pool with sign rather than yelling.

There is a whole genre of deaf performance in both song and dance, and yes, deaf folk can feel vibrations from music:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...Ga5RWIwWzRWNVt
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Old 23rd May 2020, 12:21 PM   #4
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Fascinating. I could see using expressions for "anger" and whatnot, but the ability for such subtlety surprised me. Thanks for those replies. And that article is enlightening!
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Old 23rd May 2020, 12:58 PM   #5
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When asking a Who-question (like, "Who was the person that just left?" ) you mouth the "Who" part of the question and furrow the brow. ASL involves body language just as much as English. And ASL has different signs than BSL. Not sure how much though.

Last edited by Little 10 Toes; 23rd May 2020 at 01:00 PM.
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Old 23rd May 2020, 02:18 PM   #6
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I recently learned that people who are deaf from birth, and who suffer from schizophrenia, will see disembodied lips (if they are lip readers) or disembodied arms if they read sign language. If they lost their hearing after learning to speak, they still "hear" voices."

This fascinates me. As a hearing person, I can understand how a hearing schizophrenic justifies hearing voices. I mean, we all hear voices when we cannot see the source. Could be someone speaking around the corner or it could be a radio behind the toaster. But I don't know how a deaf person could ever get his or her head around disembodied arms.

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Old 23rd May 2020, 02:50 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Little 10 Toes View Post
When asking a Who-question (like, "Who was the person that just left?" ) you mouth the "Who" part of the question and furrow the brow. ASL involves body language just as much as English. And ASL has different signs than BSL. Not sure how much though.
I think they are very different. There are also regional variations, like accents, even within the same sign language.
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Old 23rd May 2020, 03:00 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Chris Haynes View Post
There is a whole genre of deaf performance in both song and dance, and yes, deaf folk can feel vibrations from music:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...Ga5RWIwWzRWNVt
I'm always impressed by the interpreter at the Eminem concert
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Old 23rd May 2020, 04:20 PM   #9
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Slightly beyond your original question, but may also be informative...

In Australian sign language, (I can communicate but am not an interpreter), it's not just facial expression.

Wider body language comes in to play.

For example when signing "I - sick" the signer slumps forward and down, indicating lethargy.

Between native speakers, the height of the hands comes in to play.

During an argument, as tempers become heated, the hands get higher and higher (as the participants try to sign over the top of each other) . The grunts, body slaps, foot stamps and physical nature of the signing also increases.

For example: touching your chest with your palm means mine (possession).

Slapping your chest with your palm means MINE!!!
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Old 23rd May 2020, 04:40 PM   #10
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I used to enjoy the ASL versions of songs done by Stephen Torrence. Knowing the words to the song, you can easily see how much Torrence uses body and facial expressions to convey the meaning of the lyrics. Watch this amazing rendition of Jonathan Coulton's Re: Your Brains.


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Old 24th May 2020, 10:28 AM   #11
Chris Haynes
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Originally Posted by Mongrel View Post
I'm always impressed by the interpreter at the Eminem concert

Originally Posted by Loss Leader View Post
I used to enjoy the ASL versions of songs done by Stephen Torrence. Knowing the words to the song, you can easily see how much Torrence uses body and facial expressions to convey the meaning of the lyrics. Watch this amazing rendition of Jonathan Coulton's Re: Your Brains.

Those are definitely performance art that require lots of practice. What is fun is when the ASL is interpreting in real time and gets something unexpected to sign. I went to a talk by Dr. Oliver Sacks when he was doing a book tour for Island of the Colorblind. I was sitting to the side so I did not see the interpreter, but Dr. Sacks had to stop, laugh and look down at her and remarked he was wondering how she would sign it. I only vaguely remember the words, but I think they included: shark, stab and heart.


I have know a few ASL interpreters, and they do get had fatigue. At the school assemblies they would change interpreters after a certain time.
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