Posted by: njs44 | December 30, 2009

Sign Language

On those occasions when I have attended events with a sign-language interpreter I have always found signing to be very beautiful. Most of my experiences have been in Church services where the words of old familiar hymns, even ones that I thought boring, came alive again. There is a hymn, Colours of Day, which has a boring tune and predictable lyrics, that I thought had no power to excite me until I saw it signed and those dull lyrics took on a whole new meaning.

Today I have been reading about Disability and came across this wonderful story told by Kathy Black who amongst other things is an interpreter for  Deaf religious communities. She writes about her experience once when she was interpreting at a graduation ceremony.

I was interpreting and doing fine until the choir began singing in Latin. Thinking it was in English, I started signing what I thought I heard. Quickly I realized I had no idea what they were saying but felt more awkward stopping after I had already started signing. There was no easy way off the stage so very gracefully I explained to the deaf people that I had made a mistake and that the song was really in Latin and what did they want me to do. They signed back from the pews that they wanted me to tell them a story, so I did. I told the story in perfect time to the music and ended, of course, when the choir ended. After the service, several hearing people came up to me and told me how inspired they were by the music interpreting. One woman had tears in her eyes and told me how she had experienced God in a way she never felt was possible. I did not have the nerve to tell her I was really signing a story about an elephant!



  1. “divine spectacles”…. apart from the bad pun, this is not but maybe worth telling….. your interpreter story rang a curious echo for me.
    For Christmas, I received a video of Michael McIntyre at his Wembley tour gig and as part of his stand-up routine he tells of the use of signing on late night TV where some “prime time” programs are re-run with signing. After various witty observations, he went on to tell of a wildlife program (Blue Planet by David Attenborough) which was exploring new depths in the ocean and of course they discovered new species which the learned presenter decided to create new names for and this led to a somewhat hilarious (in eye of beholder) retelling of the quandary of the signer when they had to sign whole new words which had just been invented in the program! As this was mainly a visual gag, it may not have translated into the written form but so be it!

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