]Short answer: With a lot of help.
Dinner story #1
We were having dinner at a nice restaurant with white linen tablecloths and ornate table-settings, but I (Mary Esther) was stealing glances at my friend’s fingernails. I’d not seen her for quite a while, and now with her fork poised at her mouth before taking a bite I saw finger clubbing.
Finger clubbing? I didn’t set out to notice but the fingernail deformity was severe enough my nursing background just saw it. I tried to stay engaged in the conversation and not to go through the mental check list of potential causes–cardiac? pulmonary? Does she know she might have a real problem? Half way through the meal she mentioned her cardiologist and then I relaxed knowing she was receiving treatment. Driving home I mentioned the clubbing to Mark. He saw nothing. Nothing? Nope, didn’t notice at all. For reals. Didn’t even know what finger clubbing was.
Dinner story #2
We were having supper at home with a linguist friend. The food was okay and the conversation was fun until Mark interrupted and said, “Did you hear that?” What? Did I notice? Notice what? How the verb was used in that relative clause, an anomaly. Nope, didn’t notice. For reals. Though I know what a verb is, and what a relative clause is, nothing jumped out at me. But my husband couldn’t help himself and he and the linguist friend spent the next half hour discussing various deviations of theoretical linguistic patterns.
When we travel to countries where we don’t know the language Mark sees/hears patterns in the language. Me? I’m just trying to remember how to say “hello” and “where is the bathroom?”
You smile because you understand. You too have gifting and training in some spheres and other areas where you don’t.
So yes, JSL and ThaiSL (Japanese Sign Language and Thai Sign Language) are different. But for linguists or someone with a decent language aptitude, noticing how languages function or learning another language is just part of who they are. They truly can’t help themselves.
But maybe the most germane idea is that Mark doesn’t do the translating. Not even in Japan. Since he is not a native speaker (it wasn’t a language he used growing up) translation protocol says he will not translate. So then, what does he do? He checks.
Which brings us to the real question–How can you check if you don’t know the language?
1-How sign language operates:
It helps that in many sign languages there are some similarities in the use of the space in front of the signer*, the use of face,** and classifiers.*** The actual manual signs, however, are almost all different between JSL and ThaiSL.
2-Community checking with a good interpreter:
When Mark attends a community comprehension check he knows what the text should say/mean. If the feedback from those viewing the translation matches the text, all is well. If not, they revise. For instance, they showed Mark 11 to the Deaf people who had gathered–people who had not heard the story before. After watching they re-told the narrative. There seemed to be confusion as to what a “colt” was. And they weren’t sure where the animal was found (“in the street” according to v 5.) So there were two corrections that needed to be made. There were a total of 50 corrections that day.
3-A talented Consultant-in-Training:
Can Mark do this work alone? Absolutely not. He relies on the team, and the better they get at translating, the fewer errors they make, and the easier Mark’s work is. They have a Consultant in Training who works with the team to translate. She knows Thai, ThaiSL, and English, and is very good at what she does. During the translation process she texts or Skypes with Mark about questions they have on the passage. She serves as interpreter for Mark while he is there checking the translation. Also, a Deaf person on the team is a great communicator and finds ways to tell Mark what he needs to know and understands what Mark is trying to say. And yes, sometimes they resort to drawing pictures.
Most of the translation work is done without Mark present. He is available from Japan to give input on difficult translation issues, giving ideas on how things might be done, or done better, and advising the Consultant in Training. As the team gets better, his job gets easier. By the time he sees their work now, most of the easy problems are gone. The ultimate goal is to get the team on the ground to the place where they can handle it all.
Mark watches Deaf signing ThaiSL in various contexts; during informal conversation, church services, consultations, allowing him to see patterns he can expect to find in the translation. So he does pick up some ThaiSL while there (the JSL team complains that when he returns he is throwing ThaiSL into his JSL.) But while checking he has to trust that since the team knows ThaiSL far better than he, if they say it communicates then it does, even if it looks “wrong” to him.
Thank you for praying. The team reached their objectives for the 10 days Mark was there. He flew back to Tokyo and is headed to the JSL office to look at the current draft of Luke.
*Semantics and pragmatics 2000 Metaphors in American Sign Language. page 412
Wicox, Phyllis Perrin
Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Sarah F. Taub, Washington, DC (USA)
Check out # 6. Typological perspective: Use of sign space across sign languages
**Front Psychol. 2013; 4: 115.
Published online 2013 Mar 11. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00115
PMCID: PMC3593340 Facial Expressions, Emotions, and Sign Languages
Eeva A. Elliott1,* and Arthur M. Jacobs1,2
*** A definition: “Classifiers are designated handshapes and/or rule-grounded body pantomime used to represent nouns and verbs. The purpose of the classifier is to provide additional information about nouns and verbs such as: location, kind of action, size, shape and manner. ”
Taken from Seattle Central College What, When and How to use ASL Classifiers. https://seattlecentral.edu/faculty/baron/Summer%20Courses/ASL%20223/ASL223ASLClassifiers.htm