Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

well-trained “hearing” people

May 3rd, 2006

Non-deaf persons, collectively labeled “the hearing” from the Deaf point-of-view, are occasionally a source of great amusement. Take today. I’m interpreting. The speaker has a tendency to become passionate, so my signing reflects this. I use a bit more energy, sign a bit quicker and with more emphasis.
The concept has to do with a sudden, steep decline. A serious one. Not happy. The non-manual facial grammar that adds the proper adjectival intonation is a somewhat tight pucker, lips not fully closed, but narrowed (like THIN). It is usually accompanied by an exhalation.
So there I am, interpreting away. Intense subject matter, emotions are involved. The speaker is energized; I’m right there. Here’s the decline, I pucker. Wouldn’t you know I generate a high-pitched whistle! The deaf consumer giggles for a solid minute. I have to work really hard not to crack up in hysterics. My smart aleck teammate, Wanda, writes me a note on our feedback sheet about my “inaudible whisper.”
The speaker doesn’t flinch. Literally! Doesn’t miss a beat. Other non-deaf participants give no evidence of having heard a thing. Hello?!!! I’m not saying they should have. No, really. It might seem like I’m saying they should have but that isn’t my point. It was an unexpected, unusual, obviously accidental, and actually amusing moment and the whole group ignored it as if it didn’t happen. We’re talking some serious control.
It could be that some of them did notice and might have snickered or given some other indication that they were actually alive. I didn’t look at them. I was embarrassed. It shouldn’t have happened. I’m not advocating that interpreters start whistling to get people to pay attention to us. But how hard are those folks working to ignore us if they inhibit normal reactions to natural human interaction? And then we wonder why it is so difficult to affect, let alone alter, group dynamics so that linguistic participation is shared and available to everyone, regardless of the language they happen to use.

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