Interpreting: To mouth or not to mouth?

Interpreter signs for preacher
Using Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, I ask,

To mouth the words or not to mouth? That is the question.

A sign language interpreter oftentimes portray multiple roles depending on the situation, client’s educational background and the overall environment where interpreting takes place. He may be both an interpret and a teacher. This is very true especially in a developing country like the Philippines. SL interpreters are almost always special education (SPED) teachers. Professional SLIs are a rarity. He can also be a mime actor, a Bible guru, a doctor or a lawyer. I’m not implying that the interpreter diagnoses patients like a doctor or defends the client like a lawyer. I’m only emphasizing the fact that interpreters must be knowledgeable on these areas in order to fully convey those messages to the deaf and vice versa.

Which brings me to the topic at hand, should we mouth while signing the words of the speaker to the deaf or should we simply listen first to what he is saying, digest it and convert it to a series of signs that the deaf can understand? The former probably might be applicable to affluent countries like USA where the deaf are encouraged to reinforce their signs with lipreading skills. But I believe it would impose a bigger burden for us interpreters if we sign while we talk instead of just focusing on the message at hand.

The Philippines has two official languages; Tagalog/Filipino which is the vernacular and English. Although not yet officially recognized, our Filipino Sign Language has a very strong influence from ASL. During my early years with the deaf, I often talk while I sign. But later on, I felt that my signing is being dragged down by every word I say. I’m having difficulty expressing myself and my sign order tends to follow the sentences I make. This also holds true with my interpreting method. If a speaker talks in English, it would be easy to mouth the words because we simply sign it. But when he talks in Tagalog, we must first convert it to English, process it and then sign it.

I might get varied opinion about this topic. Some deaf may feel that interpreters shortchange them by not completely signing the speaker’s message if they don’t mouth the words. They may even criticize the interpreter’s level of signing skill. However, a great many of them would be contented with fluid signing while maintaining eye contact with the interpreter without looking at the mouth.

To my deaf readers, which would you prefer; to mouth or not to mouth? 🙂


2 thoughts on “Interpreting: To mouth or not to mouth?

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  1. This causes considerable contention in some areas, personally I don’t want sign without the lip-synch as well. This suggests we are dumb, or don’t need every and all available clues to what is being said, lip-synch increases the access. I am very tired personally of sign translators that go silent and pull faces for hours, it is a turn off, and contributes nothing to (A) Highlighting sign language or (B) helping us with communications. Also many interpreters of sign language look plain stupid and this reflects on us who DON’T do this, it seems to be a hearing trait to assume deaf people like rubber-face impressions, we don’t, it is very annoying. The image is negative to mainstream as well. Speak clearly and not too slowly and keep the sign going as well, deaf aint dumb, so drop the image… This applies to classwork too, keep on talkin’

  2. I read your post about the title of Interpreting: To Mouth or not to mouth?”

    for Court in any case (Rape, Abuse, Divorced, Murder, etc) for Deaf-mute or Hard of Hearing.

    – a Sign Language Intepreter must not let to mouth to them ( college-interpreters, teachers, etc). because of privancy deaf personal any subject of their problem in case. It is a professional, good job and good manner. What if Interpreter let to mouth to them about Deaf personal will be destroy and its can get to hurts their feeling. It is not good manner. Its will be kicked to a Interpreter.

    – Interpreter must be a good understanding what Deaf person talks with Sign Language any subject of their problem in case.

    – Interpreter must be honest to say to a Deaf person what Judge saying. Interpreter can be repeat again if Deaf Person dont understand Interpreter say interpreting because Its a job. Don’t let Interpreter invent to own idea the story. Its not just joking or kidding. Interpreter must be serious and sure to work to interpreting for Deaf Person.

    – Interpreter get earn money to support by a government or organization.

    – Interpreter must have license a professional.

    that is my suggest if you agree or change your own option. whatever you think can it better than my suggest.

    May God bless you more.

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