How Ingenious Sign Language Interpreters Are Bringing Music to Life for the Deaf: Visualizing the Sound of Rhythm, Harmony & Melody

They are greeted like celebrities, with huge cheers and applause from the audience on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, for example, and it is well-deserved---they're stars in their own right---but you probably won’t recognize their names. They’re American Sign Language interpreters of pop music, and their craft involves not only a mastery of ASL, but also empathy, creativity, spontaneity, dance, and some of the vivid interpretive moves of an air guitar champion (a rare art form indeed).

In the video explainer from Vox above, we meet one of the most talented of such interpreters, the poised yet highly animated Amber Galloway Gallego. She has interpreted over 400 artists---"literally every artist you could think of"---including stadium fillers like Adele, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and, as you can see below in video from last year’s Lollapalooza, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose melancholy “Under the Bridge” takes on an entirely new energy through Gallego’s expressive hands, face, and body (she first appears at 1:22).

As she explains to Vox, ASL interpreters have for years communicated music to their audiences by drily making the sign in English for “Music” and leaving it at that. For Gallego, this was totally insufficient. The deaf community includes “a diverse group of people,” the Vox narrator says, “who have a wide range of residual hearing” across the audible spectrum. And everyone can feel music at certain volumes, especially in a live concert setting. But an interpreter, Gallego suggests, should be prepared not only to translate the lyrics of a song, but also the rhythm and, to a certain degree, the melody and harmony, as well as the general vibe, allowing deaf concert goers to be part of the total experience, as she puts it. (She can even interpret beatboxing.)

Since ASL already incorporates emotive gestures and facial expressions, Gallego simply adapted and expanded these into a repertoire of dance and musical sign. She interprets frequency, bringing her arms and hands closer to her waist for lower sounds and at her shoulders and above for high notes. She communicates pitch and rhythm with her face and hands in ways that both mimic the movement of sound waves and communicate how much she herself is grooving to a tune. “If we merely show the sign for music,” Gallego insists, “then we are doing an injustice as an interpreter.” Be warned, ASL interpreters, she sets the bar high.

To convey the meaning of a song’s lyrical content, a music interpreter must translate a tremendous amount of wordplay, rhyme, and metaphor into a visual form of communication. In the Vox video, Gallego shows how she does this effectively at the speed of Eminem’s motor mouth in a song like “The Monster,” and, though I can't speak to the experience of someone from the deaf community, it's impressive.

Gallego's enthusiastic innovation and embrace of music signing has generated dozens of video interpretations on her YouTube channel (including classics of both Christmas and kids’ music and the irresistible glee of Chewbacca mom). And she has also promoted her rock-star-worthy work to millions on TV shows like Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and, as I mentioned, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where, as you can see above, she tag teams (for the win) with two fellow music interpreters in a battle against rapper Wiz Khalifa.

via Vox

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Meet the “Grammar Vigilante,” Hell-Bent on Fixing Grammatical Mistakes on England’s Storefront Signs

In the age of Banksy, anonymity, energy, and acting without permission combine to make a potent brew. Those whose work springs up in a public setting overnight, without prior announcement or transaction, are freely assumed to be passionate swashbucklers, brimming with talent and sly social commentary.

But what about an anonymous middle-aged man who roams the streets of Bristol, armed not with stencils and spray paint, but a sponge-tipped broom handle that allows him to correct the improper punctuation on local businesses’ awnings and out-of-reach signage?


The so-called "grammar vigilante," above, became an Internet sensation after a BBC reporter trailed him on one of his nightly rounds, watching him apply adhesive-backed apostrophes where needed and eradicate incorrectly placed ones with blank, color-matched stickers.

While the manager of Cambridge Motors (formerly known as Cambridge Motor’s) hailed the unknown citizen who muscled his splintery wooden sign into compliance with the King’s English, elsewhere, the backlash has been brutal and swift.

The chairman of the Queen’s English Society shares the anonymous crusader’s pain, but frowns on his uncredited execution.

The Telegraph is one of several publications to have called him a “pedant.”

And the owner of Tux & Tails, whose website persists in describing the business as a “gentlemans outfitters,” is angry over what he says will be the cost of restoring a large vinyl sign, installed less than a year ago. “It looks like bird shit,” he declared to The Bristol Post.

On this side of the pond, Erin Brenner, an instructor in the University of California San Diego Extension’s Copyediting Certificate program, comes down hard in her Copyediting blog. In her opinion, there’s nothing to be gained from publicly shaming strangers for their punctuation boo boos:

It is not a kindness—it’s abhorrent behavior…It also gives the world a misguided idea about what professional editors, who are also passionate about language, do. We don’t go around slapping our authors’ wrists in public and telling them how wrong and stupid they are. 

Those with reason to fear vigilante justice for their public punctuation should be advised that the web abounds with apostrophe usage videos, one of which is above.

Watch a longer segment on the Grammar Vigilante here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Albert Camus’ Touching Thank You Letter to His Elementary School Teacher

It’s never too late to thank the teacher who changed your life.

Oprah Winfrey fell to pieces when she was reunited on air with Mrs. Duncan, her fourth grade teacher, her "first liberator" and “validator.”

Patrick Stewart used his knighthood ceremony as an occasion to thank Cecil Dormand, the English teacher who told him that Shakespeare’s works were not dramatic poems, but plays to be performed on one’s feet.


And Bill Gates had kind words for Blanche Caffiere, the former librarian at View Ridge Elementary in Seattle, who destigmatized his role as a “messy, nerdy boy who was reading lots of books.”

One of the most heartfelt student-to-teacher tributes is that of Nobel Prize-winning author and philosopher Albert Camus to Louis Germain, a father substitute whose classroom was a welcome reprieve from the extreme poverty Camus experienced at home. Germain persuaded Camus’ widowed mother to allow Camus to compete for the scholarship that enabled him to attend high school.

As read aloud by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, above, at Letters Live, a “celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence,” Camus’ 1957 message to Germain is an exercise in humility and simply stated gratitude:

Dear Monsieur Germain,

I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honour, one I neither sought nor solicited.

But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened.

I don't make too much of this sort of honour. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus

The letter was gratefully received by his former teacher, who wrote back a year and a half later to say in part:

If it were possible, I would squeeze the great boy whom you have become, and who will always remain for me "my little Camus.”

He complimented his little Camus on not letting fame go to his head, and urged him to continue making his family priority. He shared some fond memories of Camus as a gentle, optimistic, intellectually curious little fellow, and praised his mother for doing her best in difficult circumstances.

Readers, please use the comments section to share with us the teachers deserving of your thanks.

You can find this letter, and many more, in the great Letters of Note book.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Theater Dictionary: A Free Video Guide to Theatre Lingo

It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your showstoppers are? Or, more to the point, do you know why a musical-comedy writing team seeks to orient its showstopping number at “eleven o’clock”?

The Theater Development Fund’s Theatre Dictionary is an ongoing attempt to define and document theater terms for both the rabble and any budding practitioners who’ve yet to master the lingo.


Each term is accompanied by a loopy slapdash skit. Not all of the performers exhibit the pedigree Veronica J. Kuehn and Nick Kohn of Avenue Q bring to “Eleven O'Clock Number,” above, but casting administrators and ticket booth reps in starring roles lend a homey egalitarianism, such as when students from the Yale School of Drama’s Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism are given free license to explore the origins of “vom.”

(This loosey goosey approach also allows for uncredited appearances by other theatrical tropes---the marathon rehearsals where popcorn constitutes lunch and one actor repeatedly complains that his work has been insufficiently acknowledged.)

A “What Does This Word Mean” tab for each term anchors the video silliness, providing historical and anecdotal context. It’s in keeping with the Dictionary’s greater goal of bringing theater to the people, letting everyone play with the toys.

Some of the definitions are practical shorthand…

Others are couched in longtime, possibly archaic theater lore…

I’d exercise caution with some of this lingo. Even though many of these terms are born of practicality, overusing them may cause others to view you as the most obnoxious of self-declared Triple Threats, the kid in the comedy-tragedy mask sweatshirt, prone to belting out the entire soundtrack of CATS at the slightest provocation. (“Thanks, 5!!!”)

Some of these terms have unexpected crossover appeal, most recently Ghost Light, above. Knowing the meaning of the term will help you better appreciate the power of the Ghostlight Project, a post-election coming together of theater artists and audiences in defense and support of vulnerable communities.

You can browse the Theater Dictionary complete glossary here or watch the videos on TDF’s Youtube channel.

The Theater Dictionary’s FAQ contains information on how professional theatre companies and organizations and college-level theatre programs can apply to contribute a video.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Largest Historical Dictionary of English Slang Now Free Online: Covers 500 Years of the “Vulgar Tongue”

greens-dictionary-of-slang

"The three volumes of Green's Dictionary of Slang demonstrate the sheer scope of a lifetime of research by Jonathon Green, the leading slang lexicographer of our time. A remarkable collection of this often reviled but endlessly fascinating area of the English language, it covers slang from the past five centuries right up to the present day, from all the different English-speaking countries and regions. Totaling 10.3 million words and over 53,000 entries, the collection provides the definitions of 100,000 words and over 413,000 citations. Every word and phrase is authenticated by genuine and fully-referenced citations of its use, giving the work a level of authority and scholarship unmatched by any other publication in this field."

If you head over to Amazon.com, that's how you will find Green's Dictionary of Slang pitched to consumers. The dictionary is an attractive three-volume, hard-bound set. But it comes at a price. $264 for a used edition. $600 for a new one.

Now comes the good news. In October, Green’s Dictionary of Slang became available as a free website, giving you access to an even more updated version of the dictionary. Collectively, the website lets you trace the development of slang over the past 500 years. And, as Mental Floss notes, the site "allows lookups of word definitions and etymologies for free, and, for a well-worth-it subscription fee, it offers citations and more extensive search options." If you've ever wondered about the meaning of words like kidlywink, gollier, and linthead, you now know where to begin.

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Bertrand Russell Lists His 20 Favorite Words in 1958 (and What Are Some of Yours?)

Russell_in_1938

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Is it possible to fully separate a word’s sound from its meaning---to value words solely for their music? Some poets come close: Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, John Ashbery. Rare phonetic metaphysicians. Surely we all do this when we hear words in a language we do not know. When I first encountered the Spanish word entonces, I thought it was the most beautiful three syllables I’d ever heard.


I still thought so, despite some disappointment, when I learned it was a commonplace adverb meaning “then,” not the rarified name of some magical being. My reverence for entonces will not impress a native Spanish speaker. Since I do not think in Spanish and struggle to find the right words when I speak it---always translating---the sound and sense of the language run on two different tracks in my mind.

An example from my native tongue: the word obdurate, which I adore, became an instant favorite for its sound the first time I said it aloud, before I’d ever used it in a sentence or parsed its meaning. It’s not a common English word, however, and maybe that makes it special. A word like always, which has a pretty sound, rarely strikes me as musical or interesting, though non-English speakers may find it so.

Every writer has favorite words. Some of those words are ordinary, some of them not so much. David Foster Wallace’s lists of favorite words consist of obscurities and archaisms unlikely to ever feature in the average conversation. “James Joyce thought cuspidor the most beautiful word in the English language,” writes the blog Futility Closet,” Arnold Bennet chose pavement. J.R.R. Tolkien felt the phrase cellar door had an especially beautiful sound.”

Who’s to say how much these authors could separate sound from sense? Futility Closet illustrates the problem with a humorous anecdote about Max Beerbohm, and brings us the list below of philosopher Bertrand Russell’s 20 favorite words, offered in response to a reader’s question in 1958. Though Russell himself had a fascinating theory about how we make words mean things, he supposedly made this list without regard for these words' meanings.

  1. wind
  2. heath
  3. golden
  4. begrime
  5. pilgrim
  6. quagmire
  7. diapason
  8. alabaster
  9. chrysoprase
  10. astrolabe
  11. apocalyptic
  12. ineluctable
  13. terraqueous
  14. inspissated
  15. incarnadine
  16. sublunary
  17. chorasmean
  18. alembic
  19. fulminate
  20. ecstasy

So, what about you, reader? What are some of your favorite words in English---or whatever your native language happens to be? And do you, can you, choose them for their sound alone? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to Spot Bullshit: A Primer by Princeton Philosopher Harry Frankfurt

We live in an age of truthiness. Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word to describe the Bush administration’s tendency to fudge the facts in its favor.

Ten years after the American Dialect Society named it Word of the Year, former president Bush’s calendar is packed with such leisure activities as golf and painting portraits of world leaders, but "truthiness" remains on active duty.

It’s particularly germane in this election year, though politicians are far from its only practitioners.


Take global warming. NASA makes a pretty rock solid case for both its existence and our role in it:

97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

In view of such numbers, its understandable that a suburban Joe with a freezer full of factory-farmed beef and multiple SUVs in his garage would cling to the position that global warming is a lie. It’s his last resort, really.

But such self-rationalizations are not truth. They are truthiness.

Or to use the old-fashioned word favored by philosopher Harry Frankfurt, above: bullshit!

Frankfurt--a philosopher at Princeton and the author of On Bullshit--allows that bullshit artists are often charming, or at their very least, colorful. They have to be. Achieving their ends involves engaging others long enough to persuade them that they know what they’re talking about, when in fact, that's the opposite of the truth.

Speaking of opposites, Frankfurt maintains that bullshit is a different beast from an out-and-out lie. The liar makes a specific attempt to conceal the truth by swapping it out for a lie.

The bullshit artist’s approach is far more vague. It’s about creating a general impression.

There are times when I admit to welcoming this sort of manure. As a maker of low budget theater, your honest opinion of any show I have Little Red Hen’ed into existence is the last thing I want to hear upon emerging from the cramped dressing room, unless you truly loved it.

I’d also encourage you to choose your words carefully when dashing a child’s dreams.

But when it comes to matters of public policy, and the public good, yes, transparency is best.

It’s interesting to me that filmmakers James Nee and Christian Britten transformed a portion of their learned subject’s thoughts into voiceover narration for a lightning fast stock footage montage. It’s diverting and funny, featuring such ominous characters as Nosferatu, Bill Clinton, Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator, and Donald Trump, but isn’t it also the sort of misdirection sleight of hand at which true bullshitters excel?

Frankfurt expands upon his thoughts on bullshit in his aptly titled bestselling book, On Bullshit and its followup On Truth.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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