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Translating the Deaf Self: understanding the impact of mediation

02 Oct 2014

Interpreters and translators form a large part of everyday life for Deaf people in interaction with hearing communities. The effects of this on how they are perceived by others and in turn how Deaf people see themselves, is to be investigated by a team of researchers in Edinburgh and Manchester.

The BSL/English bilingual team has been awarded £200,000 for a unique project to investigate the cultural and social impact of translation on Deaf people who rely on sign language interpreters to be understood and participate in hearing society.

The award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will assist two deaf and two hearing researchers to take a novel approach in combining Translation and Interpreting Studies, Deaf Studies and Social Research.

They will look at how translation shapes and projects Deaf culture and what impact it has on Deaf people’s own identity, achievement and well-being.

Professor Jemina Napier, from the Centre for Translation & Interpreting Studies Scotland (CTISS) at Heriot-Watt University, explained, “The majority of people rarely, if ever, have the experience of being interpreted or translated. If they do it is usually confined to occasional social, business or official situations, not a permanent, everyday experience.

“However, for Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) users, interpretation is normally a part of everyday life. They understand people’s perceptions of who they are through their sign language interpreter. Other people’s experience of Deaf people is also largely formed indirectly through the use of interpreters.

“To date analyses of translation and identity have focussed on the identity of the translator, but not on the user, and particularly not on the user who is in a permanent state of being translated.”

The project is one of only eight Research Innovation Grants funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the Translating Cultures Theme. It is being jointly led by Professor Jemina Napier at Heriot-Watt University and Professor Alys Young, alongside Co-Investigator Rosemary Oram, at The University of Manchester, in collaboration with the Deaf community organisation Action Deafness, and the Deaf-led video production company AC2.Com.

Professor Alys Young, from the Social Research with Deaf People (SORD) programme at The University of Manchester, said, “The results of this unique study will inform theories on translation, identity and well-being, and will trial a new methodology for conducting research with visual languages. The results will benefit  parents of deaf children, sign language interpreters, and hearing people who work with Deaf sign language users, as well as Deaf people themselves.”

Craig Crowley, Chief Executive Officer at Action Deafness, added, “Action Deafness is proud to be among the community partners assisting with the 'Translating the Deaf Self' project. We are delighted with this funding from AHRC as this will help pave the way forward for recognising the cultural identity of Deaf people through sign language."

Notes for editors

This project is specifically about people who are Deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL). Deaf with a capital ‘D’ usually refers to that group of people who use BSL, while deaf with a lower-case ‘d’ is used to refer to the many people who experience a deterioration in their hearing as they become older.

British Sign Language provides Deaf people with a way of fully communicating, receiving information and participating in all aspects of life. About 50-60,000 people use BSL as their preferred or only way of communicating. BSL is not a set of gestures or a visual way to represent English. It is an independent language, developed in the Deaf community centuries ago, that is unrelated to English.

There is a strong community of Deaf people united by a common language and way of life – this is usually called Deaf culture. Deaf people access information through sign language interpreters in education, at work, to see the doctor, and to attend conferences. Interpreters are typically paid for by the Government’s Access to Work scheme, or through disability student support or healthcare or legal interpreting provisions.

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