how does a sign language interpreter deal with unfamiliar words?


Gameshow I’m watching just asked which citrus fruit is also known as a shaddock and, having never heard of it, wondered if the interpreter was in the same boat and had to spell it out or something

In: 17

I mean yes that is an option. Interpreters can always default to spelling out a word to be clear.

But, in your case they might only spell it out the first time, and then after that just use the generic sign for “fruit”. Because spelling it out every time would be time consuming, and people would understand based on the context what they were referring to.

Usually interpreters are given questions/materials ahead of time so they can prepare. In this case it’s likely they prepared to finger spell “shaddock.”

I love that you asked this question. I’m curious as to why when you heard the word shaddock you wondered how an interpreter would handle it

A pomelo, apparently – not that I’ve heard of that, either! Used in Japanese cuisine. The deaf person wasn’t given the chance to answer, so I guess we’ll never know how the sign language went down!

I’ve actually seen a tiktok on this! Before the show, they will ask the performer if there are any unusual words in their act, and figure it out from there. odds are good there’s a sign for it that they can just look up, if they don’t know it. If there’s not, they can finger spell it.

I taught computer security courses 20 years ago, when the field was young. When ASL interpreters were in the class, they generally had to make up words (r-sign going back and forth for “router”, for example). They kept a list of words they invented on paper so that if a different interpreter came in another day, they new one could use the same terminology.

What really made them suffer was the assembly language portion of the class. “eax”, “ebx”, “ecx”, “ebp” etc were names of registers used in assembly, and every time they were said, the interpreters had to spell them out. At one point they asked my subinstructor to pause a bit and slow down because their hands were getting too tired.