Matters of Interpretation

If the unfortunate fracas over the fraudulent sign language interpreter for the public funeral service of Nelson Mandela had one upside, it might be this wonderful, illuminating (if short) discussion with Melanie Metzger, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Interpretation at Galludet University in Washington, D.C., on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU.

As you can see in the embedded video above, the discussion is made all the more informative for the live, simultaneous sign language interpretation incorporated into the interview between Dr. Metzger and her interpreter, Caroline Ressler. For those who have never watched the interaction between a deaf speaker and an interpreter, or who have only seen sign language interpreters on television or on stage, the relationship between the two might surprise them.  Deaf conversation can be highly animated, tactile, and for the hearing audience — missed here because of the spoken interpretation — often surprisingly loud and percussive. This also provides you a much better idea of the impressive feat of simultaneous interpretation, in any language.

I have posted this discussion not just for the importance of the topic but also because of my interest in language and interpretation generally.  American Sign Language is a language, with its own regional accents and dialects, and the cognitive issues Metzger discusses here are analogous to interpretation in other languages, regardless of ability or tongue.

I would only add for those living near Gallaudet University (or anyone with access to a school for the deaf) to see a theater production at the drama studio, which as a hearing person I can only describe as theater acted in three dimensions after a life performing in bas relief!

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About James Thomas Snyder

U.S. Foreign Service Officer, writer, translator and former NATO and U.S. Congressional staffer. All opinions expressed here are my own. My work has appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Military Review, Joint Force Quarterly, Internationale Politik, Dissent, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among other publications. In 2013, Palgrave-MacMillan published my book, The United States and the Challenge of Public Diplomacy. In 2004, TAMU press published my translation of Pierre Hazan's Justice in a Time of War, a history of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in 2004. I earned a joint JD-MA from American University in 2001 and a BA from UCLA in 1995. I also studied European and international law at the University of Paris X-Nanterre and international security at Meiji Gakuin University in Yokohama, Japan.
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