PCS Blog

Interpreting The Bard

Posted by KatieO | 03 December 2012

Sign language interpreters work between two languages: a spoken language and a signed language. That is an obvious statement, yes. But the process becomes more complicated with the addition of foreign words or phrases, or in the case of plays, longer passages of dialogue between characters in a third language.
Some people are surprised to find out that, just as spoken languages vary by country, sign languages do, as well. Deaf people in other countries have their own sign languages, just as every country has different cultures and different languages. And just as a point of interest, American Sign Language (ASL) most closely resembles French Sign Language because that is where formalized instruction in ASL originated. There are also dialects and regional ASL signs within the USA, just as there are regional spoken dialects or naming conventions. And ASL has evolved over time, just as spoken English has evolved.
But back to the play at hand and its author: Shakespeare. 
Shakespeare poses challenges to sign language interpreters in much the same was as interpreting foreign language passages because it must first be interpreted from Shakespearean English to current English. Then the process of interpreting into ASL begins. So interpreting Shakespeare requires an extra level of concept translation. It can also be deceiving sometimes, because some of the familiar Shakespeare words or even phrases have different meanings now.
Here is one example from No Fear Shakespeare:
BOTTOM: "First, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats on, then read the names of the actors, and so grow to a point."
Current Translation
BOTTOM: "First, Peter Quince, tell us what the play is about, then read the names of the actors, and then shut up."
The other linguistic issue with Shakespeare is the delivery style. Shakespeare uses rhyme and verse, flowing long speeches, and a poetic cadence which may be for style and beauty and sometimes meaning. But translating those spoken and sound-based patterns is important and complex and must be done in a visual way, which may include sign choice – such as choosing to use the formal or honorific sign for YOU when a character says “thou” rather than the everyday sign for YOU. Interpreters may also use signing size or movement to convey, for example, a flowery flowing speech whose concept might be simple but the character is “waxing poetic” for five minutes in something which could be interpreted in one minute.
A Midsummer Night's Dream will be interpreted by four professional interpreters: Krista Harmon, KT Corlett, and Pamela and Edwin Cancel with sign coaching by James Rae, at noon at 7:30 p.m. on December 6, 2012.  Please click HERE for more information about access programs at PCS, purchasing tickets and future interpreted performances!
Comments (0)

There are no comments for this entry yet.

Join the conversation!

Portland Center Stage welcomes your comments and criticism.

We invite you to share your comments with us on our Facebook page.


For current and upcoming shows, please see our Season Calendar.

Sign up for the PCS email list.

Season Sponsors