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Interpreting English puns into ASL:

How do you express English puns? I saw one interpreter simply sign "hearing joke, please laugh."  My choice has been to fingerspell the English that has multiple meanings.


Fingerspelling (of a pun) is certainly better than patronizing.

If I ever witnessed an ASL interpreter sign, "hearing joke, please laugh" I would certainly try to avoid using that interpreter again.

An interpreter should do their best to sign a joke after which it is my pleasure and opportunity to attempt to "get" (figure out) the joke. That is what part of what makes jokes funny -- figuring them out and then being amused by having done so.

For the interpreter to take away the recipient's opportunity to even "see" the joke and then worse to patronizingly tell the recipient to "laugh" so that it will appear that the interpreter was competent enough to interpret the joke and instill a false idea of having good sense of humor to the teller of the unseen joke -- is an egregious (*shockingly bad) abuse of privilege and responsibility on the part of the interpreter.

A few thoughts for interpreters and/or presenters:

Do not assume that Deaf people can't "get" Hearing jokes.

Some do. Some don't.

Deaf people who are bilingual generally can.

One of the first rules of comedy is to "know your audience."

My "day job" (as of this writing) is at a 4-year accredited university. I and three of my colleagues are Deaf and hold doctorate degrees. We are all skilled bilinguals (English and ASL). My (Deaf) wife holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative writing. She is witty in both ASL and English.

A pun is funny to those who know the language in which the pun is told and who have the nimbleness of wit to make the mental leap to find amusement in the alternate meanings created by the use of the pun.

Telling someone what something means is different from extending the opportunity for the other person to figure out what it means. (Figuring out a joke tends to require a "mental leap.")

Interpreting a pun for a monolingual (or even for a bilingual) removes the mental leap and causes the pun to become "not funny."

A hammer isn't much good when you need to tighten a bolt. You need a wrench. You need the right tool for the job. If all you have is a hammer it is a good idea to leave the bolt alone until you can find a wrench* (or locking pliers). That's just the way it is.

Puns are one of those language tools that only work well when your audience knows the (originating) language. If not you should just leave puns alone.
Otherwise you might have a gut wrenching* experience when you try to hammer home your point with a pun.



* For those of you who didn't get my (attempted) pun.  In one paragraph I used a "wrench" and a "hammer" as metaphors for "language tools."  In my "pun" later on -- I used "gut wrenching" and "hammer home" to mean things that have no direct connection with putting a wrench on a bolt or hitting a nail with a hammer.  It is (supposedly) funny because I'm obviously "stretching" to make it work.  So, in this situation the amusement (if there be any) comes from the "attempt" at hummor rather than the pun itself. Or in other words, go ahead and laugh (or grimace?) "at" me instead of "with me."

Definition: "patronizing"  1. apparently kind or helpful but betraying a feeling of superiority; condescending. (Source: Oxford / Lexico)


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