It is indeed encouraging to know that people, the Deaf and hearing alike, appreciate the inset of sign language interpreting in the course of the Impeachment trial of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Renato Coronado Corona televised live at ANC Channel on Studio 23. However, there are much more to sign language interpreting than meet the eye.
To the hearing people who do not know sign language, they are simply amazed and bewildered about how a sign language interpreter would try to keep abreast, much less cope, with the discussions, interpolations, direct/cross-examination, manifestations, etc., considering that there are numerous characters involved during the procedures. Moreover, dialogues are sometimes unpredictable as one could just "butt in" anytime whilst one is still speaking. However, the exchange of words during debates and arguments and sudden shift of characters not only need to be interpreted by the sign language interpreter, but be able to establish the people involved in these conversations also.
For the information of the majority, sign language interpreting is not as simple as it may seem, because the instruments involved are not just the hands and the ears but something hidden. The main mechanism involved is the brain because this is where all the information is being processed. Sign language interpreters do not just sign what they hear – BUT decipher the message, analyze it, and interpret it in the language that deaf people could understand through visual signs and gestures. Words are not signed verbatim, but the interpreter gets the concept and uses appropriate signs depending on the context.
Another role is distinguishing between characters or speakers. The sign language interpreter can designate a “sign name” for each character to be identified with by the deaf people. This is done by using their initials and sign those initials in any part of the face – for male, the upper part and for female, the lower part of the face – and would even add a distinctive feature in sign that is prominent with the character. For instance, the name “Neil Tupaz”, and he is wearing eyeglasses – it can be designated by using letters “N” and "T" in sign language and use those to touch the right and left cheek, respectively, portraying the eyeglasses he is wearing, or simply both being signed on the right temple. Therefore, if it is already Neil Tupaz speaking, the interpreter would use the sign name that was designated for him then proceed with what he is saying.
Another way of distinguishing between characters is through body movement. This is done by shifting the body slightly to the right or left and just establish which character is which depending on where the interpreter is facing. For example, the interpreter might establish Neil Tupaz speaking when he faces slightly to the right and establish Serafin Cuevas as another speaker when he faces slightly to the opposite side.
Also, more often than not, people would see the sign language interpreters slightly looking up or down while signing. This is also vital because these gestures would establish authority figures. Again with our example, if Neil Tupaz would be addressing the Presiding Judge, Juan Ponce Enrile, the interpreter would be signing what Neil Tupaz is saying while slightly looking up and facing a little bit to the right. On the other hand, if it is the Presiding Judge's turn to address Neil Tupaz, the interpreter would shift slightly to the left (or middle as the Senate President is seated in the middle of the senate hall) and slightly looking down as he signs what is being said portraying that latter is currently speaking.
We have a saying that goes, “A picture paints a thousand words”. This is actually true in sign language interpreting because it is visually-oriented as deaf people rely on their sight in receiving the messages through the interpreter, all encompassing – the hand signs, facial expressions and body movement. And all these have to be done in a split second! Otherwise, the interpreter would lag behind and miss out on other important messages.
This is the reason why after an interpreting assignment, sign language interpreters are not just exhausted physically, mentally, but emotionally as well. With this in mind, it is really ideal that in any interpreting assignments there should be at least two interpreters who would be alternating and the gap between is 20 minutes to give ample time for each one to rest. Yes, others could go for hours interpreting, which can be considered exception to the rule as a hiring body could reason that they lack budget. But it can be considered as an abuse because with all the intricacies in sign language interpreting mentioned above, they could eventually take toll on the interpreter if exposed too much alone.
To the deaf people, we do appreciate your positive comments and feedback as they inspire us more to be more vigilant with our advocacy and in joining you in your struggle to fight for your “rights to information” that greatly affect your community. We can even accept criticisms as long as they are constructive and not destructive so that we may serve you better in future interpreting assignments with our confidence remaining intact.
To my fellow sign language interpreters, we are all one in this challenging road we now tread. Therefore, I hope that we would continue to lift one another up and not the other way around. We are not in competition with each other, rather we should be partnering with one another. There is a principle that says, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. If we all unite together, then we would be able to "bridge" the long-existent gap between the hearing and the deaf people more successfully so that their “VOICE”, too, would be heard through us, the sign language interpreters.
By: Reiner J. Blas
reprinted with permission