I uploaded a five minute video of my brief introduction (in American Sign Language) to my proposed dissertation research.
The shaking in my hands and legs stopped about half an hour later. “Did you accomplish the effect you wanted?” a friend asked after class. No, I knew I had not created the simulation I intended, and I did not yet know what – if any – effect there might be. “Why so nervous? You do this everyday!” Yes, but…this was so obviously for show. Without live interpretation, did it make sense to still do it?
Later, when I watched the video for the first time, I noticed the errors. My idiosyncratic mixing of coded English and ASL, fingerspelling that was too fast, rushing through parts of the presentation. Was it worth making public despite these imperfections? Was it sensible enough? I had my doubts.
Then I received an email from a peer in the class regarding something unrelated, but she added:
I kept thinking about signing while reading over and over about how written language is inadequate and arbitrary. I was wondering, did you alter your performance at all for a non-deaf audience? I thought the most interesting effect was watching everyone struggle to choose between the written script and your performance.
Now I’m psyched! 🙂
I did not alter my performance FOR a non-deaf audience, but it is obvious to me some of the ways the clarity suffered because there was not a deaf person in the room. I lacked the nonverbal feedback indicating comprehension/confusion. If someone literate in ASL had been watching, I would have known when I needed to repeat, embellish, or rephrase. Instead, I plunged on too rapidly. (Or at least, I’m worried that I did.)
One thing I definitely did do in order to frame the presentation for a (non-present) deaf audience is consider the opening carefully. The logical structure of discourse is different in ASL than in English; I really wanted to be comprehensible. Basically, I guess I did what I often do when I am interpreting: tune out the non-signing hearing audience! ( Should I be making this confession?!)
I was unaware of the struggle between choosing to read the text or watch the signing while I was giving the presentation. I mean, I did notice that some people were looking at me, others at the handout, and some looked back and forth, but I experienced this matter-of-factly. Not as an indication of “struggle” associated with the choice. Now I am intrigued as to what this choice meant! Some people did comment on this afterwards, about not knowing whether to watch or read, and about trying (?) to match up the signing with the written text. Was there more going on with the need to make that choice than the obvious? (The “obvious,” in my mind, being one language is accessible/understandable and the other not.)
Here’s a link to the handout, with the text prepared for the (hoped for) interpreters. Below is more background on how I came up with this idea and prepared for it.
Prior to start of this semester, the professor for this course, Language as Action and Performance, emailed us:
…it’s important to hear what folks are working on these days in more than the AA style of introduction…Be prepared to take three-five minutes to sketch out your interests…
Somehow I read this to imply “be creative” with the intro. (Re-reading it now, my mind must have been already inclined to take liberties with meaning!) Since the concept of performance is central to the course, I wondered if I could generate a simulation … could I place my classmates in the position of listening to me/my words as interpreted by someone else from a language that they do not know?
I did not have much time; only a couple of days. I knew finding someone to interpret with such short notice would be a major feat. I asked colleagues that I know work on campus, and made an official request through the Vermont Interpreter Referral Service. Then I waited . . . no, nope, no one….someone (maybe) but qualifications (skill) sketchy…maybe someone? But maybe not…..then, yes, the morning of that very day, two affirmatives! I had to get busy with prep materials: this is a graduate level course, and my research is specific with theoretical terminology.
It took me some three-four hours to compose 500 words that captured the gist and spirit of my interest without all kinds of extra tangents and unnecessary (at least for my immediate peers) explanations. I kept telling myself to imagine I was presenting to Laurene. I also told myself not to worry about the ASL – it would come. Focus on the English. After I had written the document to prep my peers, my mind was much clearer for me, too. 🙂
I whittled the statement down to bullet points so I would have an outline to follow. Again, I had already decided to sign, to let go of the form of the written code and explain the ideas using the syntax of ASL. I knew my colleagues would go with it: whichever “Wanda” I ended up with had the text in advance, and would remember some of the specific English terms or use equivalents. (Any of my interpreting colleagues who make the blog because of work become “Wanda.”) I turned my attention to the ideas and concepts with no direct equivalents in ASL. How would I convey them?
First, I remember seeing Deaf comedians and storytellers play around with looking inside people’s heads. That helped me with the concept of “cognition.” It took me longer to come up with a strategy for the transmission model of communication. What came to mind was a project I did in one of my very first ASL classes, taught by Ann Reifel. We had to investigate the flexibility of ASL by videotaping several people explaining how they would do a simple action. The goal was to prove that there are unlimited ways to say a thing; no one person says the same thing in the exact same way. I wanted to learn about classifiers, and selected the simple act of getting in/out of a car. I could not tell people that was what I was looking for, however, instead, I videotaped a dozen narratives of the commute to work. The best story was provided by my mentor, Evelyn Thompson. 🙂 She included a hundred hilarious details, including near accidents, long stretches of traffic, and the bumps of construction. (I have it, still, somewhere….)
As luck would have it, something came up for both of my colleagues (and they get teased about it, too!). I was faced with the choice of going on alone, not doing it, or – as the professor later offered – waiting until next week.
Well, with performance, you know what they say! The show went on….