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l’azile » sign of the times

January 28, 2012

sign of the times

catherine @ 7:02 pm

An old black and white photo depicting a man pulling the skin beneath his right eye downward with his index finger.

I have recently been exploring signed videos of popular music. Although I had stumbled upon a few here and there, it was only after I saw this signed version of Marilyn Manson’s “This Is The New Shit” that I started to get really excited. That it really sunk in that signed versions of songs can make the results original artistic works in their own right.

Here is a story on ABC World News about a young interpreter who started signing songs for a deaf friend and who, when this news item was originally posted, had had over 15000 visitors to her youtube channel.

And here is an old post on the phenomenon with a round up of some more examples, some quite awesome, some not. This post also introduces us to Jade Films and Entertainment, a production company run by a deaf woman who has produced quite a bit of these signed videos (check out her youtube channel).

Also, for reasons that escape me, there is an insane amount of signed versions of Adele’s Someone Like You.

And while there are many nice renditions of “Someone Like You” in American Sign Language (ASL), this one is my top pick. These kids are heartbreaking!

Of note:

  • brianaott’s take on Someone Like You.
  • love2sing2dance2act’s version.
  • And then we have AdrianneChanning777’s version in which she screws up and starts over in the same take (how cute).
  • And finally, we have tiffanyevita (yes, I am serious, tiffanyevita), complete with sunny meadow and frilly white blouse but what is most interesting to me is that this video has subtitles.

And yes, I watched them all (and then some).

I am not an expert in ASL (or sign language in general) but I have been around it enough to understand, watching these various videos, that there are obviously differences, subtleties in interpretation. Regionalisms? Poetic license?

Anyway, I wonder to what extent the deaf community is interested in signed songs beyond the idea of just having access to information. I mean, aside from a few exceptions, none of these songs are signed by deaf people. I could be wrong of course and I am not saying that this should not be done but this at times seems to be something that is done more for the benefit of people who can hear, that hearing people feel they must absolutely do this to give the Deaf some sort of experience with regards to music (and Adele in particular ;)

I am reminded of conferences I have attended, especially in the accessibility field, where sign language interpretation is made available, sometimes regardless of whether there is a deaf person in need of it in the room but the able-bodied, hearing participants are beyond thrilled and tweet endlessly about how pretty sign language is, that they learned the sign for “clapping”, etc.

I am tempted to make the analogy with the Blind and image descriptions. I have often heard blind people, especially those born blind or blind from a very early age, say (though generally not officially, of course) that they could not care less about image descriptions beyond functionality or essential information. That, for example, they do not give a shit about what color the car is, that the girl is wearing a hat, that the dog has spots, etc. These people are generally a minority in the visually-impaired community but, I think quite unfortunately, they are usually the most vocal so a lot of other needs are probably not being expressed. Which may explain in part why the whole issue of image descriptions on the Web (and the longdesc attribute especially) has been such a complicated mess. But I digress… The point was that I wonder if it is the same for the Deaf ? Or for some of them. I wonder if some or many do not care all that much about music. I wonder if they care very much.

Of course, like a lot of people, I find that sign language can indeed be beautiful and intriguing. I love some of the signed videos I have seen and to be honest, I actually think that, for example, the signed version of Marilyn Manson’s aforementioned song is better than the original video. And I definitely think that all songs should have a signed version.

But I worry, most notably, that the availability and quality of signed versions of songs is dependent on how strong a trend is or how successful so or so signed version is or how popular a song is (the Adele example demonstrates that quite eloquently, I think). And this does not even broach the subject of captions. Sure, lyrics are a dime a dozen on the Internet but that is what they are worth, probably less.

And then there is the issue of the quality of the sign language itself. Are the Deaf getting the right information? Sometimes, it is quite possible that what is being signed can be mediocre at best. And then there are edge cases like the BBC interpreter who was caught making rather creative embellishments when signing news casts. This person obviously had mental health issues so I will not join in the strange and vicious bashing everyone has seemed compelled to do. And this is not something I would expect to happen very often. But there are plenty of people who think they know enough sign language for it to be adequate enough. And as long as all this is done on a voluntary basis, I guess “good enough” will sometimes (often?) have to do…

And finally, I have to wonder fleetingly what the music industry thinks of signed versions of songs. I am not talking about the artists; I imagine most of them would welcome the idea of their work being made available to new or generally neglected audiences (at least, I hope they would). I am talking more about those who, as in the publishing industry, have a hard time with the idea of “alternatives” even when it is an issue of accommodation.

Anyway, I would love to hear what others think about this subject. Opinions from the Deaf community are especially interesting to me though often the most difficult to obtain…

Photo: Bruno Munari, “Speak Italian, The Fine Art of the Gesture”, 1958 (via Mrs. Easton’s blog)

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  1. Hey Croy,

    I was just emailing Notman and I thought to come here. I wanted to let you know that when I read this a while back I spent an enjoyable 20 minutes watching some of those videos. Thanks for linking to them.

    Comment by Mike — April 20, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

  2. :)

    Comment by catherine — April 20, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

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