Note from Uncle Dale: Does This Speaker Register as Distant to You?

Hello People my People!

You know when you are in the middle of a lecture, or even a chat, and you realize that you had assumed everyone knew what you were talking about and then suddenly it hits you-dead eyes, fixed smiles with the occasional slack-jaw; they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, and they should!

It happened to me in a class last week.

Now, this was not a class of dim bulbs (I have had one or two that could not generate the wattage needed to read a cereal box. It’s rare, but it happens), this class is bright. But the concept had somehow eluded them long after it should have been imbedded in their psyches.

We were talking about Register.

The problem is, while I was lamenting that my class, each of whom would have been exposed to discussions on Register in no less than two to three courses prior to the one I was teaching, did not have a good understanding of what Register is-my friend to whom I was whining chose that moment to rather sheepishly confess that he had never really understood the academic meaning of Register either. Oh he could tell you the names of the levels of formality (my whole class could), but if I asked him to define it he would say, “it’s like irony, I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it.”

Then gave me the Children’s Sunday School answer, the same answer my students all regurgitated on cue, “Social Distance.” I call that the Children’s Sunday School answer because in my Christan denomination if you are teaching Children’s Sunday School no matter what question you ask most of the kids will just say, “Jesus?” because about 80 percent of the time that is the answer you are looking for, so the odds are with them that you, the teacher, will just accept that answer and move on.

No such luck for my students, “ok, what does Social distance mean?”

Blank stares.

Finally one brave soul popped up with, “it has to do with the signs you can and can’t use in a given situation, like, you can’t use swear words if you are working in Formal Register.”

Almost, but not quite, exactly incorrect.

I think of Register as being established by the answer to two queries:

1) Are you taking questions; and,

2) In what form must the question be presented?

Think, for example, of a text associated with Frozen Register: The pledge of Allegiance or specific prayers or religious texts. These are set texts. They are read or presented each time without deviation.

You don’t take questions in the middle of The Star Spangled Banner (I was going to make a reference to a recent rendition by a popular singer at the NBA All-Star game, but that would date this post).

How do we as interpreters maintain this “no questions asked” policy? Well, with Frozen Texts most clients are familiar with the protocol of whatever text they are viewing. They have gone to church, or seen the pledge before a city counsel meeting or observed a sporting event. However, if that is not the case eye-gaze and attitude are the tools here. Use unfocused or elevated gaze to hold the floor. But again Frozen Register is rarely the problem (I did not say never).

Formal Register is where it starts to get interesting. Think of a speaker at a podium. The speaker says, “Good Morning everyone, I hope you all slept well and enjoyed the breakfast provided by the hotel.” The speaker is not inviting a discussion on the comfort levels of the hotel beds or fielding complaints about the hotel running out of cheese danish. The speaker is not taking question! It’s a formality… unless the speaker is taking questions, then it’s not.

The speaker controls the Register and may upon a whim step out of Formal and into whatever level of Register the speaker wishes; even Frozen-think poetry.

“Can someone turn the lights on in the hall,” is the interpreters signal that the form of turn taking has changed and the new normal must be pinned down ASAP! Is it consultative? Or informal

One more thing to think about. Remember when my student said swearing is by definition not Formal Register? A speaker can use profane language to illicit a visceral response without inviting a physical or aural response. Dynamic speakers use rhythm and intensity in speech patterns to do this.

Some cuss like sheepherders.

Either way it is a tightrope the interpreter walks. You must again rely on eye-gaze, body position and other methods of controlling the flow of communication to alert the Client that the Register has not changed just because the F bomb was thrown.

The next level of Register on the scale is Consultative. Now, finally, we ARE taking questions, but in a highly regulated and structured manner. Perhaps the protocol is to raise your hand and wait to be acknowledged by the speaker before proceeding.

This is a classroom situation, usually with a teacher and multiple students.

Well may you ask why this tends to require multiple students. You did ask? And well, you may!

See the setting in your mind. Now remove all of the other students, it’s just you and the teacher. Do you raise your hand? Not so much. Even if class is in session, not so much.

One on one discussions or even with one or two other students involved can easily slip into Informal or Casual Register even if the setting is more associated with Consultative.

It will almost always slide into Casual Register if the bell rings AND the teacher steps from behind the podium. If the teacher retains the podium she is maintaining the classroom level of formality. Stepping out from behind the podium invites discussion in an Informal or Casual Register.

The hallmarks of Causal Register are less structured turn taking. Not unstructured, there can still be a protocol but it is more freeform and peer exchange oriented and oh crap I seriously just slipped into academic speak.


Where was I?

Oh yeah! informal or Casual Register. There is still a turn taking protocol here and it keeps the conscientious interpreter on his toes! Because it is based on aural cues or prosody markers. Slight pauses in the conversation invite participants to jump in and speak, but not over top of one another. Vocal (or in ASL visual) cues indicate the end of discussion on a specific topic or an invitation to raise a new topic. When interpreting in Informal or Casual Register the interpreter must be assertive enough for the Deaf Client to jump in to the discussion, but not overly aggressive in a way that makes the Deaf Client come across as lacking social protocols. Hearing interpreters you know these cues in the back of your head and most of you (again I said most… there is always someone…) can ride this conversational current effortlessly. It is however a completely different story when you are navigating the conversational rapids for and in behalf of a Deaf Client.

Practice. It’s the only way to learn and this is one of the skill sets we almost never invest time in. Practice.

The final level is Intimate Register. Here there is only the turn taking protocols that grow organically between intimates. Sometimes more formal, and sometimes less so.

There is an older movie called Broadcast News that has what may be the finest example of Intimate Register ever put on film.

At one point during the movie Albert Brooks (the voice of Marlin in the Nemo movies) calls Holly Hunter and says, “meet me at that one place we went that one time.”

Holly Hunter replies, “ok,” and hangs up.

Intimate Register may not require turn-taking (not with my daughter and her friends anyway) and often doesn’t even require complete sentences.

This is the Register of husbands and of wives and of husbands & wives. The Register of Significant Others. Parents with their own children. Best friends.

It can be a nightmare to interpret because the context need not be stated by the participants; it is understood because it preexists this conversation.

When I was a young interpreter we almost NEVER worked in Intimate Register. Every now and again for a parent and a child in the Principal’s office or family therapy, but that was it.

Now there are interpreters who work in Intimate Register much of the time. Thank you VRS.

Let me give you an example. Imagine this VRS call:

Deaf Caller: (the moment the Hearing Caller says “hello”) CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?

Hearing Caller: I KNOW! RIGHT?

DC: Yeah.

HC: So do you know for sure?

DC: One Hundred Percent.

HC: So?

DC: Yeah.

HC: Ok, I’m still in shock.


HC: Ok, well, I’ll be there.

DC: You know where?

HC: Yep!

DC: Ok. See you!

HC: See you!

WHAT? I mean what?

Intimate Register, welcome to it.

So that is Register. No more glassy-eye-slack-jaw-blank-looks from you!

You’re welcome!


Note from Uncle Dale: Anxiety, Doubt and Desire.

I got a call from a reader who meant to text but accidentally called (it happens).

It took a minute or two to get there but it turns out her question was, “how did you find time to go to law school when you were in your Thirties?” (ah, you saw THAT workshop!) and how did I overcome the anxiety I felt in order to mentally get to a place where I could do it?

First of all, put out of your mind that a three year hole opened up in my schedule. Things like that don’t happen. It will NEVER be a convenient time to chuck it all and go back to school, so anytime is as good as any other time to do it.

Think about how freeing that is.

Because no time will work out, literally any time works as well as another.

The anxiety. That is a longer discussion.

At any fork in the road of life remember, regret lives at the end of all paths we took because they looked easier than the path we wanted to take.

Wow. That came out much more “fortune cookie” than it sounded in my head.

The point is still valid, no matter how faux-zen I may have stated it. Any time we give up what we really want to spare ourselves anxiety right now we lose a little of our potential.

WOW. Faux-zen, fortune cookie AGAIN.

By the way, I’m not talking about Clinical Anxiety. That is most DEFIANTLY not the point of this Note. I’m talking about “Cowardly Lion” type COURAGE. Courage locked away by too much everyday, run-o-the-mill, nervousness and self-doubt. I’m talking about the anxiety that tells you in your head that you can’t (usually in the voice of someone that you trust would tell you things like that) before you even try.

That voice? That voice is you. You, by the way, have a horrible habit of underestimating yourself. You are the last person you should listen to in matters requiring an honest evaluation of your abilities.

I’m going to try this one more time.

My son came to me once and said he really wanted to ask a girl to a dance but “she will just say no.”

I told him that there are many many girls in this world who will reject him, don’t do their work for them.

It’s worse when our anxiety has help from someone whose opinion means nothing, but we give it power over everything.

My hero when I was young was my fathers best friend Roger. Roger had the coolest job I could imagine; he was the city attorney. They PAID him to ARGUE with people. I got punished for doing that, BUT HE GOT PAID! In my heart I knew that job was what I wanted.


Growing up with ADHD (they didn’t call it that back then… I’m not sure they had a formal name for it, at least not in Utah. I think I was considered “clinically obnoxious”). I had many people willing to tell me who they thought I was, and the exact limitations on the level of success I should expect (hint: no much).

In the middle of my elementary school years (10 of the longest 7 years of my life) I had a teacher who would have us ask questions by lining up in front of his desk. One day I was in line and when it was my turn he looked at the student in line behind me and asked what her question was. I stood and waited (well, I bounced in place and counted ceiling tiles or looked for the shapes of animals in the multi-colored industrial carpet, as I had taught myself to do when I was around adults who scared me). When he answered that student’s question he addressed the next one in line behind me. I started to speak but the teacher put his finger up to shush me.

I continued to bounce in place. I found a shape that looked kind of like a giraffe.

This process continued until I was the only one left. The teacher never looked up or acknowledged me in any way. Suddenly he said, “you should have noticed I skipped over you?”

I said I had noticed that.

He said, never looking at me, “that is because every moment I waste on you is time I could be spending with an intelligent student. Sit down.”

So I did, and I did not voluntary ask or answer a question in class for several years. But more important I put away silly ideas, like being an attorney, because such dreams were for smart people.

I became a interpreter (without ever considering the brains required for this work, see Rule 1)

Interpreting drove me back to law school. Interpreting and outrage.

I worked for the State and they kept sending me to interpret in court and jail hearings. I saw so many hearing people giving as little attention as possible to the rights of Deaf suspects. I saw prosecutors and defense attorneys being so very condescending toward victims and witnesses who are Deaf. I kept saying “someone should do something about this! Until the day I finally figured out what a phrase my dad always said actually meant. He would say, “the helping hand you are looking for is right at the end of your arm.

I suddenly realized I couldn’t wait for someone to fix it. I had to be that someone! So I quit interpreting (that is a whole other story) and moved to Boston to go to law school. (I chose Boston for two reasons. First I knew I had to leave Utah because I can’t say no to, “please for me,” as in “please for me interpret this important appointment.” I had to go somewhere where (at least for a while*) no one knew me. Second, I loved everything about Northeastern University. I loved the fact that it’s law school was focused on public service justice. I loved that Dennis Cokely and Harlan Lane both taught there. Oh and as a side note Boston has always held a place of wonder to me-has not had-I’ve lived there and it still fascinates me).

I had a good job that I loved. My life was on track. I had a wife I love and who could put up with my scattered thought processes. I had house in a neighborhood I loved and two kids. There was nothing in my life at that point that said “you need to make a change.” But I did, because I had to. It was not in any way convenient. It threw everything into disarray and 15 years later I am still paying for incidental costs (both monetary and other) but I have never regretted it. When students, friends or peers ask me how I justified that big of a decision at 28 knowing that I would not graduate and pass the bar until I was 33 years old I tell them the same thing I told Rusty Wales, the first person to pose that question to me. I would be 33 years old anyway, why not be 33 years old and an attorney. It may be a silly mantra, but it got me out the door.

Ok, full disclosure, I still felt like I was too stupid to go to law school. Even when I did well on the LSAT, I knew I was too dumb. I just hoped I could make up the difference by working very hard. Very very hard! I spent a lot of time yelling down the voice of my elementary school teacher that was always ready to offer his opinion on my lack of ability and my chance of success (Psst. According to the voice of my teacher it was zero). I still had plenty of fear, anxiety and self doubt! But I was also angry. My determination that something had to change the way people who are Deaf were treated in the court system as well as obvious issues with Deaf education kept my head just above the anxiety that sought to swallow me whole.

If the disclosure is going to be full I must admit that in my first semester I did not buy anything with the Northeastern University logo on it. Not a notebook. Not a pencil. Not a shirt. I did not take a picture in front of the school or write anything about the first semester in my journal. Nothing I would have later to remind me if I failed.

I didn’t do this part of a conscious plan. I didn’t even realize I did it until after I got my final grades for the first semester and realized I didn’t fail out; in fact I did well. My first act was to walk to the bookstore and buy a cheap gray tee-shirt with a very small NUSL (Northeastern University School of Law) logo on it. It was my reward for making it (I told my wife all this later and she, playfully, lost it! I SOLD MY HOUSE! I LEFT MY FRIENDS! AND YOU WEREN’T SURE???)

Here is the point (yes there is one), eventually I graduated. I was a law school graduate. On the day of graduation I walked across the stage and they handed me my degree and at that moment my first thought was “#%*& you Mr. Teacher!”

That threw me.

For over twenty years I had let that jerk live rent free in my brain. I had let him tell me who I was and what I was and was not capable of doing. At that moment I evicted him.

I evicted him and invited a man named Steven Timothy to take his place. Dr. Timothy worked for my father and when I was a teenager he became a mentor to me. He took me skiing with his family and told me I was worthy of respect. Dr. Timothy loved me for me and I never fully appreciated that while he was alive because I never gave his support and encouragement the attention and power I gave to the words of that teacher who tore me down. It is so much easier to believe people who agree with the negative views we hold about ourselves than to hear the voice of those who tell us we are wonderful.

This most important lesson is BOTH VOICES ARE TELLING US THE TRUTH!

We all struggle. There are things we all wish for that an honest examination of our abilities will confirm to us we just can’t have. But this number is small, almost insignificant, when compared to the power we have inside that we fear to tap.

Sometimes we fear failure.

Sometimes we fear success and the expectations that places on us.

But most of all we fear the voices inside that are willing to confirm our worst fears about ourselves.

I replaced the voice of my teacher with Dr. Steven Timothy on that day. I listened to what Dr. Timothy had to say. You know what he said?

“You did it. And if you’re surprised you could then you are the only one who is.”

Live your life as an act of courage. Anytime you need to, hear my voice in your head saying, “you can do it, and if you think you can’t, well, then you are the only one!”

*for those keeping track yes that is a parenthetical inside a parenthetical!

Rule 487

A client wanting you to take their side in a disagreement during an appointment is just a stranger standing by a van offering you candy.

Note from Uncle Dale: The Last Word or Let’s Go Swimming

The first of my regular articles for RID Views was published today.

It’s called “The Last Word or Let’s Go Swimming.

Enjoy it here and join the conversation at #viewsthelastword