In both presentations and the meeting a number of Deaf people said they didn't like it when interpreters didn't interpret what they were signing.
We explored this with them and found that they were really describing two different issues.
First, what interpreting should be and looks like. For many Deaf people and interpreters in The Gambia interpreting has tended to be more English influenced, more literal, and so Deaf people were used to seeing what they signed more or less said. So when interpreters were interpreting 'properly', i.e. not saying what was signed, but interpreting meaning, Deaf people felt they weren't interpreting properly. This was something that through discussion Deaf people fairly quickly understood and accepted. This is an area of understanding that needs to be developed in partnership and discussion between Deaf people and interpreters.
Second, that when interpreters are uncomfortable with what the Deaf person is signing, they don't interpret it.
With the interpreters when asked if they would interpret everything, most said they wouldn't, giving a number of reasons, including it's offensive in itself, being uncomfortable with what's said, and that they would be seen badly by the hearing people.
We discussed these issues in class, with my challenge - 'who made you the judge'? But classroom discussion doesn't make change. For change to happen you have to do.
And so we 'did' abusive words (in Gambian English swearing not a meaningful word).
First we wrote down a list of all the abusive words they could think of in English. We explored how offensive they were, .e.g. calling someone a lier massively offensive, saying shit, offensive in some contexts with some people, e.g. abusive words used within the family, completely unacceptable.
Then we played the abusive words game. We stood in a circle and took it in turns to say the next abusive word on the list, to the next person along. Once we finished the list, we went round again, saying the words with affect. Lastly we went round again saying the words as if we meant it, with real feeling.
After the hysteria died down, and we acknowledged no one died, we discussed how this felt. From this in itself some of the interpreters felt more able to say such things if said / signed.
The list of words is below. Please don't read the words on the photos of the white boards if offended by swearing. Just skip to the next text.
We discussed these signs with some Deaf people, see the video below (filmed and shown with permission). You'll see in the video the interpreters suggest a sign that I'd describe as dry humping, which the Deaf people reject out of hand. The signs used and discussed include (in order) FUCK-YOU (middle finger version, one and two handed), a sign that doesn't have an equivalent English meaning - b hand drawn up the inside of the groin, cunnilingus - again rejected as an abusive word by the Deaf people, CIRCUMCISE-YOU, and FUCK-YOU or I'LL-FUCK-YOU (emptying tomato sauce version - meaning depends on direction of sign).
We then went back to sign the signs at each other, with feeling, and with appropriate NMF. This took a while.
Looking at LIE, STUPID, and FOOLISH, i.e. signs that would be insults in English, but not in GSL, we explored interpreting and cultural equivalence.
We looked at all of these issues in the context of the role and profession of an interpreter, Deaf people's right to communicate, including the right to be offensive and offended, and coping strategies if the interpreter felt their reputation might be damaged, including e.g. use of third person. This was particularly an issue if the Deaf person was saying something against the president of The Gambia, a language act that can get you in serious trouble.
Lastly we went round the group again asking who wouldn't interpret something they weren't comfortable with. No-one now said yes.