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No Laughing Matter – Laughter’s pivotal role in interpreted events

by Katie Fitzpatrick

Interactive Workshop

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Whether you call it a chortle, a titter or a giggle, laughter has an important role in interpreter education. This workshop will provide an overview of laughter’s neurochemical and biological responses, the prosocial effects of laughter across socio-cultural groups, and tips and tricks for teaching the interpretation of various types of laughter.

Laughter is available across all cultures, but the manifestations of laughter may vary based on gender, conversational role, interlocutors, social standing, and in-group status, etc. A number of social functions can be accomplished by various laughs and there are even separate articulatory processes for spontaneous vs volitional laughter. In a hearing population, it can be conveyed as a separate series of vowel-based sounds, or through systematic modulation of spoken words called laughing speech. There are also physical responses with laughter that have not undergone the same level of scrutiny as the sounds of laughter. Beyond these verbal and visual modes of laughter, the Deaf community also has conventional ASL signs for various forms of laughter. These also highlight the differences between the types of verbal and physical laughter.

Sadly, there has not been as much formalized research about laughing within the Deaf community. In a rare example, “Laughter Among Deaf Signers” by Provine and Emmorey in the Journal for Deaf Studies and Deaf Education explores the punctuating effect of verbalized laughter in conversations in American Sign Language. They determine that it parallels the findings in spoken language communications. This seems to indicate that humans laugh during pauses in communication not solely as a response to competing verbal articulatory systems since Deaf signers utilize these same pauses for laughter while signing.

More importantly, laughter has a strong role in social relationships. As communication facilitators whose stock in trade is founded in social relationships, interpreters have a duty to examine these roles and fortify their interpretations in regards to the intended impact. As third party communicators, the timing of these interactions is crucial, and the ability to accurately convey the intent behind the laughter in a manner that is culturally acceptable in the target language is fundamental.

Inherent in the ability to interpret these types of laughter in ASL and English and their functions for the participants, interpreters must recognize pitch, melody, speed, and volume in verbal laughter, and employ receptive skills for movement, intensity, and prosody for both ASL and physical reactions. Teaching these skills also concretely incorporates depiction, and is a simple exercise in the physically of reported speech and reported action. It also segues nicely into Demand Control-Schema when you evaluate the interpersonal relationships of the people involved. This makes teaching the interpretation of laughter a clear component of interpreter education. Several resources will be shared as part of this workshop to help interpreter educators construct future lesson plans.

Participants will be able to:

  • Recognize forms of laughter across cultures and languages
  • Analyze various forms of laughter
  • Create lesson plans for teaching about interpreting laughter

A white woman with short black hair with grey streaks in front of green bushes wearing glasses, silver earrings, and a necklaceKatie Fitzpatrick is an interpreter, linguist, mentor, and teacher so the only thing she loves more than language learning is language teaching. She has been mentoring for over a decade and teaching for the last four years. Teaching ASL to English interpretation is a special passion of hers, and she keeps her Linguistic lessons lively with real-life examples and pop-culture references. Her interests fall within traditionally under-studied and reported aspects of linguistics and interpretation including laughter as a social construct and the socio-historical linguistics of cursing. She has also founded ASLVillage.com in order to provide resources, mentoring and support for interpreters and students who want to improve their skills or achieve additional certification. When it comes to nautical analogies for the field, she strongly believes that interpreting should be navigated as a rising tide that raises all boats, instead of the pervasive crab theory.