“Oh Say, Can You Hear?”

What is the purpose of having a person “sign” “The Star Spangled Banner”? Don’t deaf people know the words by now? Besides, signing can’t possibly convey the exact, personalized musical rendition the singer may be offering. How could a signer ever convey to a deaf person the elaborate, note-bending vocal gymnastics that black female singers put that anthem through? Especially those last few lines; the ones from “O’er the land…” all the way through “…of the brave,” which sometimes can take more than six or seven minutes to complete. Why, I should think a signer would break an arm trying to get that stuff across.
When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? by George Carlin

I was listening to the audiobook this week and this part struck me. At first I was upset. But then as I laid out my side of the argument in my head, I realized that he was simply speaking as any hearing person, with little to no knowledge of Deaf people, would when asked something like that. But as someone who has taken interpreting classes and is working on a Certificate in Deaf Culture, I know why it is signed.

But before I go into that, there is one thing that does bother me is that initial “sign”. There is not reason to put that in quotations like that. It is signed. That’s it.

Okay, moving on. First, it is law that if a deaf person is in attendance and asks for an interpreter, one must be provided. They have just as much of a right as anyone else to understand what is being said or sung.

Second, interpreters do take classes that address interpreting songs. There is a way to convey what is being sung and how, but he is right. There is no way to fully convey to the d/Deaf person what we hear the singer singing. But if they need an interpreter, chances are they wouldn’t understand it unless it has always been to described to them in detail.

Which brings me to my third point: If you have never heard someone sing The Star Spangled Banner, you have no context to place any information about the singer’s rendition, and you aren’t missing anything. That is the most important thing I have learned about the Deaf: they do not see it as missing a sense. They cannot hear, we can. It’s as simple as that.

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