Thursday, May 17, 2007

does he take sugar?

My friend Ocean blogged about a music video which includes ASL (American Sign Language) - oh how nice, you might think, except that not all the lyrics were translated into ASL - so it was clearly just there for decoration, not for communication. This is just another form of cultural appropriation. The video is now up on YouTube, so Ocean posted a comment there as well, and was immediately jumped on by a load of New Agey fluff-bunnies, saying that she was just bitching and should be grateful that the video included ASL, and how could she criticise it when it was about peace and love?

Ocean's posts:
Here are the lyrics of the song as I imagine they would appear to someone who was only reading the signing and not hearing the lyrics…

I am not a signer or a Deaf person and the sound had disappeared on my PC when I looked at the video, so all I got was some mouth and hand movements…

I always get annoyed when I see TV programmes where foreign languages have been mistranslated by the person doing the captioning, so I can understand the annoyance of Deaf people here.

For example, I once heard a voice-over of a German couple who were relating how they had found the Ice Man (the remains of a Bronze-Age man found frozen in the Alps). The woman said that she said to her husband “Das ist ein Mensch” (that is a person); this was translated as “That is a corpse” which is just plain wrong, and I felt was disrespectful to the woman’s utterance. This might seem “small stuff” but it’s a sign of a general disrespect (either towards Germans or towards language in general). I submit that this desire to "help" the Deaf community without consulting them is a sign of a generally patronising attitude (even if it only seems like “small stuff”). It’s like the whole “Does he take sugar?” attitude.

Read this poem if you don’t know what the “Does he take sugar?” attitude is.

I also think the video is schmaltzy, sentimental, manipulative and exploitative of small children. Just because it's about praying for peace and love does not make it sacrosanct and immune from criticism. Wake up New-Age fluff-bunnies and stop treating Deaf people and culture as a commodity.

5 comments:

Ocean said...

To be honest,Yvonne... your attempt at showing "muddled lyrics" is actually CLEARER to understand than what I am getting from watching the signs.

To give you an example - the very first time Jeanne shows up in this video, I watched it over and over, trying to understand what she was saying. This is the best I could figure out of her signs:

"life suffer continue happen,
tied to only love avoid"

As I understand it, the actual lyrics say:

"A man grows old...when his soul's in pain
Only love can loosen that chain"

As you can see, there's a clear difference here!

My guess is that she's trying to sign the part "when his soul's in pain, only love can loosen that chain"

While there is VAGUE correlation between the signs and the words, it's not the greatest translation.

Now, for clarification... American Sign Language is NOT merely "English spoken on the hands." ASL is its own language, with its own grammar and syntax. It's not the same as English.

Interpreting music is a challenge, because the lyrics as sung in their native language have meaning... in THAT language. When you translate it into another language, you have to take into consideration that something will likely get lost in that translation.

Nevertheless, it can be done... but it requires someone who is skilled at doing so.

I think Jeanne takes far too many liberties with the lyrics, and the result is she actually botches it up. Music is one place where I don't necessarily recommend trying to do ASL - you are better off trying to sign it in a more English structure that follows the actual lyrics, while maintaining the basic sign concepts.

Confusing, ain't it? Which is why I say it shouldn't be left in the hands of an amateur. Interpreting music requires somebody who knows the language WELL, and understands how to do theatrical translation.

And for Gawd's sake, woman...

MOVE YOUR MOUTH!

Most Deaf people, especially the ones who do enjoy music, have some lipreading skills, and put it to good advantage when watching interpreters signing. This woman hardly mouths the words, let alone has any real facial expression.

Sorry...but as a Deaf person who has signed many songs over the years, interpreted for professional children's theater, taught in an Interpreter Training Program, and been signing for over 25 years...

This video is crap.

Yvonne said...

Hi Ocean. Yes I know ASL isn't merely "English spoken on the hands" - I was just trying to get the idea across to the non-ASL-literate.

The actual lyrics don't make a lot of sense to me, to be honest.... and I can certainly see it's a poor translation.

Yup, it basically sucks.

Joe said...

It does sound like an appropriation of another cultural aspect and a badly done one at that. If it had been done properly it could have been a nice touch, regardless of inane lyrics, but from the sounds of it they just stuck it in thoughtlessly to try and make themselves look good to people who don't know better.

And I second your annoyance at badly translated subtitles in foreign language movies - my French and German are rustier than an octopus' collection of briny nails but I can still understand enough to pick upn on poor translation. No wonder Guillermo Del Toro decided he was fed up with cack-handed subtitles on his previous movies and so did them himself for the wonderful Pan's Labyrinth. And my fave movie of all time, Cyrano de Bergerac has the most fabulous subtitles by Anthony Burgess, not literally translating but taking the spirit of it and turning it into poetry.

On a related topic, I once heard from a friend about going to see some classic silent movies from the 20s at the cinema with deaf friends. They were laughing their arses off so much they got told to shush or be ejected (have to giggle at deaf people being told to keep the noise down). They were lip reading and realised that the silent actors were not mouthing the lines you see on the cue cards but all sorts of shit, knowing most people would never know...

Yvonne said...

That's marvellous, and yet another reason why everyone should get taught sign-language and lip-reading - though then of course, the actors wouldn't have been able to get away with it...

Yvonne said...

Here's the chopped lyrics...

If I had one prayer,
Maybe I’m out of my mind
A man grows old
Only love can loosen
But if I offer you grace,
And do I appear weak,
I think of revenge,
The thing I despise,
I’ll say a prayer, hoping it finds …
I send it now, to heal the hearts …
If only one song …
And end all the war …
If a cold mind …
Then the fear in our world …
I’ll say a prayer, knowing it finds …
I send it now, to heal the hearts …
……pray for people who hate
All of our thoughts …
For the power of love …
When we take revenge …
The hate we despise …
I have One Prayer …
It’s a cry for mercy …
Let hate dissolve …
That love has shown
Angels above, quiet the pain …
I’m sending One Prayer,
One prayer…
(May all be loved, may all be blessed,
I’m sending love to
I must be out of my mind …

Y’see? Makes no sense.