So Expressive!

Lydia Callis, signed language interpreter for New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, is getting a lot of attention these days for her interpreting during Hurricane Sandy.

She’s been spoofed on Chelsea Handler’s show, she has Tumblrs dedicated to her, and she’s even been named “Hot Slut of the Day” by Dlisted.

Why all the attention? Is it because she’s an attractive woman doing something “exotic” with her hands? Or is it just because her facial expressions are markedly different from those of American English spoken discourse?

Would a male sign language interpreter get all of this attention?

I wonder.

8 thoughts on “So Expressive!

  1. Male sign language interpreters are undervalued as a result of a structural inequality that pervades the sign language community.

  2. Interesting post! The article you linked to went to another (see below) provides a valuable perspective – hers.

    “Hearing people tend to not understand that deaf people need those facial expressions,” Callis said. The body language replaces the intonation others hear in a voice, she said. “If I stand up there with a straight face and just interpret it, they’re not getting half the message.”

    Callis said she tries to translate Bloomberg’s emotions.

    “When a reporter asks a sarcastic question, you can see it in my face,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Really — did you just ask that?’ Because that’s how the mayor is reacting in the tone of his voice. But I’m doing it on my face.”

    Given the cultural views of men expressing emotion, one would think a man would get a very different reception, But both his and hers, as it were, might well be based on lots of people not understanding that sign language needs something corresponding to intonation.

    Read more:

  3. to expand on that a little, I found a useful explanation by a linguist of the ways being “so expressive” is doing work – as she points out, ‘Signers are animated not because they are bubbly and energetic, but because sign language uses face and body movements as part of its grammar.’

  4. Thanks for the post, Teresa (if I may!). Despite the somewhat sexist undertone of some of the remarks, I do think it is an excellent result overall that Callis’ work has received so much attention, which ultimately entails attention to signed languages in general (something that the general public does not tend to pay much attention to). Btw, I’ve also really enjoyed reading some of the other posts at Deaf Echo.

  5. Since posting this I’ve learned from the DIS-HUM list that a similar media phenomenon occurred post-earthquake in Christchurch, where NZSL interpreter Jeremy Borland became an overnight celebrity. It seems his Facebook page has 6000 fans.

    In the comments about Borland (see link above) — I found it interesting a few people remarked on the distraction interpreters create and their need to switch channels when the interpreters show up onscreen. This is the same argument that allowed closed captions to trump open captions — something I find hugely ironic now that every major news network in the States has a crawlfeed on the bottom of the screen, but I digress…

    Anonymous and annejjacobsen, the Mental Floss/Atlantic link is a good one! I linked to it in my Deaf Echo post, and I am keeping it bookmarked on my Android so that the next time some philosopher Hearingsplains to me at a conference that my interpreters are “so expressive” and rejects my explanation of ASL grammar as the reason for the facial movements I can show him this. It might make a difference? My Hearingsplaining post explains more — I meant to post it on FP a while back and it fell off the To Do list. Hmm, maybe I should post it?

    Catarina (of course you may call me Teresa! Hope it is ok to do the same?) I’m glad you enjoyed the Deaf Echo site — we’ve got a great crew who keep things running and I’m happy to be part of the team.

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