Former Nairobi gubernatorial seat aspirant Miguna Miguna was faulted by Kenyans online for criticising Youla Nzale, a sign language professional assigned the role of interpreting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s message during the official opening of the Devolution Conference in Kirinyaga on Tuesday.
Ms Nzale’s animated and passionate facial expressions while interpreting Mr Kenyatta’s message caught the attention of Kenyans online, including Mr Miguna.
“Is that legitimate ‘sign language’ the young woman on the right of President Kenyatta is using or those are freshly invented despotic gestures intended to mock Kenyans?” tweeted Mr Miguna on a video showing Ms Nzale interpreting President Kenyatta’s speech.
The banished politician’s tweet rubbed a significant section of Kenyans the wrong way.
Richard Kakeeto said: “Must you find fault with anything and everything, sir?”
Shem Ondar said: “I have never enjoyed sign language until today, when this lady was in tandem with the [president’s] spoken and body language. Kudos [to the] young lady.”
Luki Makelele said: “Sign language changes and grows [with time]. Sign language is also contextual, just like English or Luo. Miguna, respect other people’s profession.”
Auma Georgine said: “Miguna, you call it ridiculous because you do not know what she is doing. In sign language, facial expressions account for 80 per cent of signing. How then are deaf people supposed to ‘hear’ the ‘tone’, get the ‘mood’ of the speaker?”
Muriithi Macharia said: “On the question of legitimacy, yes, the signs are legitimate; they are the accepted sign vocabulary as per the KICD dictionary. Balancing expressions might be the issue; so that one may not become too emotional than the person giving the speech.”
Patrick Kinyori said: “Miguna, you are now being petty and cheap. The young lady is trying to express the mood to those people who have hearing disability.”
Robby Wayne said: “Miguna, this is a unique talent and level of communication that requires constant communication and practice.”
Justus Mwendwa said: “Miguna, you’d only get an answer to your question by going back to school and learning the Kenya Sign Language Interpretation. Once you do that, you would be in a position to know whether what that lady is doing is legitimate or not.”
Ms Nzale, a sign language interpreter at Citizen, says “facial expression is part of sign language. However, the level of animation varies from one interpreter to another”.
“My emotions went hand-in-hand with the president’s tone. I tried capturing every moment in his speech — when he was serious, sad… Deaf people do not [often] read [the lips], they cannot hear; so, they read the facial expressions. So, an interpreter needs to be happy, when the speaker is happy; sad, when the speaker is sad; confused, when the speaker is confused. That explains my facial expressions during the president’s speech,” said Ms Nzale.
According to sign language website www.signgenious.com, “facial expressions in sign language are very important because they express grammar”.
“Facial expressions are referred to as non-manual grammatical markers, non-manual behaviors and/or non-manual signals. Facial expressions are rule-governed. Facial expressions for questions that require YES/NO answers are different from facial expressions for WH-question words, e.g. WHO, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, etc. 1. YES/NO questions: – the eyebrows are raised, eyes are open wide, head and shoulders are forward. 2. WH-questions: – the eyebrows are lowered, eyes are narrowed, head forward with a slight tilt and shoulders forward,” says www.signgenious.com.
The website, however, points out that “if a sign language interpreter changes the facial expression he or she could convey an entirely different message”.