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Visualize Sound: The art of ASL Interpreted Song and the genius of Tiffany Hill

American Sign Language (ASL) has earned a celebrated place in popular culture in recent years. Advertisements now regularly feature Deaf actors conversing in ASL; from signing about a love of hash browns for McDonald's and signing between shots while representing Facebook's DeafHoops group to sharing signed personal stories of family and career in commercials for Apple and Google, Deaf people communicating using ASL are actively, and prominently, featured in mainstream media content. Beyond this promotion of the Deaf community and language, ASL interpreting has, in its own right, entered the viral sphere of the hearing community. With epic signed performances of the National Anthem at Super Bowls by Wawa Snipes and Christine Sun Kim to the fraudulent interpreting at the memorial for Nelson Mandela catching the attention of the general public, conversation about and a sincere appreciation for ASL and interpreting are deservedly commonplace in popular culture.

As several ARCANISA team members are fluent in ASL, this is a topic extremely close to our hearts. ASL is a sensational visual demonstration of language and a truly expressive form of communication as it utilizes space, movement, physical gesturing, and non-manual expressions to conjure meaning. As such, ASL has the power to capture and embody creative works like poetry and music with an honest ease and compelling completeness that is unique to visual language. Watching a signed poetry or musical performance is a palpably moving, awe-inspiring experience, even if you aren't fluent in the language!

There is no shortage of artists online sharing recorded ASL performances, but today we want to feature Tiffany Hill. This tri-lingual beauty and Washington, DC native epitomizes outstanding interpreting. Embracing the music, Hill's facial expressions and body movements substantiate and relay the melody and communicate to Deaf audiences the experiential identity of the tracks. Moreover, her translation of the lyrics from English to ASL is refreshingly aligned with the narrative nature of the featured musical tracks. Hill has a distinctive and entrancing signed voice. Sometimes straying far from the exact lyrics, she, with great success, unveils the deeper truth and emotion that narrate the words of the songs she interprets using intentionally aesthetic language. Her performances surpass the superficiality of the words and instead offer a more profound experiential demonstration of music, all the while thoughtfully preserving the integrity of the chosen songs. Hill somehow manages to evoke the message and energy of music while simultaneously creating entirely unique visual works of art.

Rather than falling into the all-to-common trap on the internet of signing close to the exact English lyrics, Hill interprets to ASL and signs the story of songs, which results in performances that are accurate, expressive, and visually striking. We recognize that this is, ultimately, the role of ASL interpreters. ASL is a language in itself—not signed English— therefore the ability to convey complex ideas, rather than translate individual words, is critical to successful interpreting. Not surprisingly and rather unfortunately, this ability is highly varied among interpreters, especially among those who are venerated on the internet by people unfamiliar with ASL. While there is an element of subjectivity in determining how to best understand and relay a message, there are some people who are simply gifted in the artistry that is required for successful interpreting, especially when it comes to interpreting creative works like lyrical arrangements. In this sense, Hill is nothing short of incredible. Hill's ability to capture and honor the integrity of the original tracks, with such grace and unguarded evocativeness, while effortlessly creating a boldly authentic ASL visual masterpiece is nothing short of remarkable. "With 19 years of interpreting experience and 15 years as a Nationally Certified Interpreter", Hill has amassed a wealth of signing knowledge that is unquestionably evident in her impeccable performances (1).

Hill's spectacularity can be appreciated even without a background in ASL. When watching the videos included here, notice the difference between the rhythm of Hill's signs and that of the spoken/sung words. Focus on the movement of her body, the depth of her expressions, and the power and vulnerability she exudes through her unwavering commitment to, and embodiment of, the emotional story of the tracks. After watching one of Hill's videos, one non-signing member of our team noted, "I am always astounded by the uniqueness of watching ASL overlaid on known song lyrics. It's like an interpretive dance performed to a celebrated, classic song. It stops your heart cold in the most intoxicating way. But that makes sense, doesn't it? Beauty transcends language."

Beyond her musical sharings, Hill also posts videos offering tips and musings on interpreting and documenting her travels (narrated in ASL). Additionally, she uploads videos in which she addresses issues of diversity, cultural appropriation, and cultural awareness in the field of interpreting. She provides outstanding insight into these frequently overlooked aspects of interpreting and we have loved hearing about her experience as a woman of color in this linguistic and cultural space.

"In a field where People Of Color are sorely underrepresented, whether you are an individual, corporation, or small business, our goal is to supply you with diversified and professional interpreters. As a minority-owned business, I know how important representation is to you, therefore, my network and I strive to provide equitable interpreting solutions for all of your needs." (2)

Whether Hill is your first introduction to signed song or you are an avid follower of ASL interpreting channels, we implore you to explore this incredible visual world. For us, phenomenal ASL interpreters like Hill are in a league of artistry all their own! Follow her on social media (Youtube, Instagram, Twitter), listen to her podcast full of fun and "anti self help- self help" (3), and be sure to connect with her through First Choice Interpreting Service if you or someone you know could benefit from her outstanding interpreting services (including, but not limited to, Video Remote Interpreting, in-person interpreting, and pre-recorded material for academic, non-profit, private sector, government, business, and conference needs).


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