PCS Blog

Signing “Chinglish”: A Translation of a Translation of a Translation

Posted by Alice Hodge | 28 January 2014

Our American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter and Coordinator, Dot Hearn, guest blogs on the challenges behind interpreting Chinglish - a play in two languages with projected translations.


Thursday, January 30th, Carolyn Brockway and Krista Harmon will be interpreting Chinglish at Portland Center Stage. An important part of this story is what happens in translation when the characters speak different languages. A significant portion of the play is in spoken Mandarin Chinese, and the English translation is visible to the audience, but it is not spoken. So, while this concept of communication difficulties based on language is the everyday experience for Deaf Community members, the actuality of the spoken and translated Mandarin does create complications for interpreting this play into American Sign Language (ASL).  


Carolyn is interpreting for Daniel, the non-Mandarin speaking character. One of her challenges is to maintain engagement with Krista, whose character is talking in Mandarin, so she is not signing when the English translation is on the surtitles. The challenge is to maintain the relationship when Krista is not actively involved in the conversation; for Krista, this means maintaining her character and interpreter role while standing still.


Krista notes that the surtitles add the challenge of adjusting the timing of the interpretation to allow the Deaf audience members to move their eyes from ASL on the interpreters’ hands to the translated surtitles. Hearing audience members are able to listen to the spoken Mandarin and read the English translation at the same time; Deaf audience members must choose between ASL and the surtitles. Krista and Carolyn are adjusting their interpreting pace to take this into account.


For this play, the interpreters will be moved a little more toward center stage to help facilitate the ease of looking between the interpreters and the surtitles.


When asked what makes this play of particular interest to the Deaf Community, Krista said “the use of interpreters, translation mix-ups, and cultural/linguistic differences …given their personal experiences with interpreters, enthusiastic new signers of varying levels, and the hearing world around them.”


Dot Hearn has been interpreting theater at Portland Center Stage since 1997. She took on the role of coordinating the interpreting access teams, which included the addition of Deaf sign coaches, in 2005. Dot interprets at other theaters, as well, but some of her favorite shows have been here at PCS, such as
I Am My Own Wife, Celebrity Row, and A Christmas Story. Dot is also an author and short story writer and has been involved in theater at many levels throughout her life. Dot holds dual national interpreter certification and participated in the 2001 “Interpreting for the Theater” training at Juilliard in New York City. Dot also started Performing Arts Interpreting Alliance, which provides training opportunities for interpreters, in addition to interpreting coordination services.  


For more information regarding our ASL performances, please contact the
Box Office at 503-445-3700.  
Chinglish runs now through February 9. Tickets available HERE. 



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