Sep 14, 2009

WEEKLY UPDATE: A Different Kind of Body Language

Last weekend, I attended a conference that addressed several areas of interest and importance to me. One additional area of focus was a pleasant surprise:

I was intrigued to watch sign language interpreters throughout every conference presentation, including the smaller breakout sessions. Particularly fascinating were the highly animated interpretations of a stand-up comedy performance (with more than half a dozen comedians) and a moving one-woman show by writer, actor, and mental health advocate Victoria Maxwell.

The comics made sure to include one-liners about "working with a partner" onstage, and even held a dialogue of sorts with the interpreters, whose hands flew in a flurry of interpretation of each joke. (One comedian, having just delivered a punch line with the word wedgie, turned to the signer and asked, "So, what's wedgie in sign language?" Improvising right along with him, she interpreted the joke by quickly spelling out w-e-d-g-i-e as she translated, then—delivering a wonderful visual punchline of her own—signed the word in answer to the question by pantomiming a yanking up of underwear and a comedic pained expression to the laughter and applause of the audience.) During Maxwell's show, the interpreters worked just as hard at providing emotion through facial expressions and accompanying body language—gesticulating wildly and quickly to indicate the times when she was portraying herself in a manic state; slowing to a calmer speed and 'tone of voice' to indicate some emotional normalcy; even slumping shoulders, staring blankly, and signing very slowly during the actor's portrayal of depression.

Sign language has its own set of rules that changes and evolves with time, just like any other language. I noticed new signs this weekend for terms like man, woman, and boy that were different from those used when I was a girl, signing haltingly with my deaf cousin. Click the link for a list of Google books on American Sign Language linguistics to learn more about the other English language today.

© KiKi Productions, Inc. 2009

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