Note From Uncle Dale: The Rhythm Trap.

This Note has become a bit of an full time job for me. I have not been able to post anything because of my obsession with it.


In the book The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (read the books. The movies don’t do the story justice!explains that the problem with time travel is not what you would expect it to be. The Guide says:

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with. There is no problem with changing the course of history—the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end. 

The major problem is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be descibed differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is futher complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

Most readers get as far as the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later aditions of the book all pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term “Future Perfect” has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.

Douglas Adams

As with most things in life the Guide gives us insight into the condition of being human-in this instance that the things that are problems are often vastly different (and a little more pedestrian) than the things we assume to be problems.

So it is with interpreting. When we struggle with an interpretation we often look for a much bigger, much more catastrophic reason for our frustration than, we eventually find out, is the ACTUAL, reason for our frustration.

For example. When working from ASL to Spoken English (and almost as often Spoken English to ASL) interpreters who are struggling tend to jump on any idea that incorporates a fatally flawed lack of skill, comprehension, or ability on their own part.

While this approach carries with it metric tons of self-deprecating, unhelpful reasoning it is also infused with two “benefits” for the interpreter’s tortured soul.

First, it’s “analysis-proof.”

In law there’s a concept called being “judgment proof.” It means if you sue me for $100 million and win, but if I don’t have a bank account or a car or a house or any real property worth any value or insurance, then it really doesn’t matter if you sue me for $10, $20 or $30 million-you’re never going to see a dime; because I just don’t have it and there is no way I ever will.

The idea of being “Analysis-proof” follows similar logic. You can give me feedback or mentoring or instruction or support all you want, but if the problem is a fatal flaw inside of me, meaning my interpreter account is empty, then no amount of analysis will EVER result improved performance.

This dovetails into the second “benefit” or what I called the “why bother” mindset.

This second issue, the “why bother” mindset, logically and commonly-but not ubiquitously-follows on the heels of being “analysis-proof” (but it can exist independently as a stand alone self-defeating self-view).

It mentally flows like this:

If the issues that I have to overcome are so vast or too much or feel like they stem from a fundamental flaw inside of me, maybe I have an underdeveloped interpreter gene, then no amount of work will ever help me get better, so why should I bother putting more effort into building my skills beyond where they are right now. Perhaps I should just be happy with what I have and not try to challenge myself.

That self-view is attractive to the tired and frustrated because it can be applied to so many areas of our lives that we see as too hard to deal with.

If you are reading this and feel like it speaks directly to you (“is Uncle Dale watching me?”*) you are not alone. Every interpreter feels these frustrations at one time or another and grabs at these “answers”.

However, like time travel, when we feel like we’ve hit these walls it is often a result of looking well beyond the mark, at huge seemingly unsolvable issues (becoming your own parent) instead of stepping back and looking for the actual issue, because the actual issue seems so simple it’s almost silly (grammar).

In my experience for example what many interpreters see as an unresolvable issue turns out to be a simple Rhythm Trap.

The Rhythm Trap

Hearing interpreters, have you ever walked passed a room and heard a voice drifting from inside and thought to yourself, “that is an interpreter working from ASL to Spoken English (or if you are one of my students, “that is an interpreter working from Deaf to Hearing” Grin)?

You know the sound. Maybe you can hear it in your head right now.

Like some kind of interpreter 12 Step Program hearing interpreters all should all be able to admit in public that some version of the words, “like butter on a bald monkey” have spilled unbidden out of our mouths.

We have all, at some strange moment, realized we were humming along to a song in our heads to the beat of word-sign-word-sign-word-sign…

Deaf Community?


You know this obnoxious interpretive dance move, you’ve seen it over and over.

Why do we do that? What’s wrong with us?

It’s not about skill. It’s not about ability. Most importantly it’s not a fundamental catastrophic flaw in you.

It’s a conflict in the differential rhythms of the source and target languages.

Seriously. It’s usually just an issue of rhythm.

Think of it like this, the human brain loves patterns. It seeks them out.

I have found many different competing theories for why this is so, from it being a genetically coded survival trait requiring our brains to reduce anything deemed necessary to live to a set of simple, easily repeated steps (I was tempted to get into Necessity Breeds Simplicity here, then I remembered, I already did that!

So, your brain loves patterns. But, as with most languages, the rhythm structures of ASL and English are not even close to each other. Think of a person from India who learned English as a second language. Their use of English words are often impeccable but native English speakers may have a hard time following their speech patterns at first because they put the English words in the rhythm of their native language; to us it’s too fast and the intonation is too subtle. This is a difference between the rhythms of the two languages.

Now look at a native user of ASL:

Not even close the the rhythm of spoken English.

This is not the first time I’ve discussed this fact. It goes all the way back to the beginning. Rule 5 to be exact:

So, as a hearing interpreter your brain sees ASL, recognizes it as a language you understand, knows at a subconscious level that it’s not the rhythm of spoken English you are comfortable with-so your brain forces it into a pattern it likes; 4/4 Time with a back beat (think of the Beatles).

Voila, that weird interpreter cadence we all recognize is born. That cadence becomes the central thing upon which your brain attaches its focus. If the cadence is compromised by a concept that cannot be produced accurately within the comfortable cadence confusion ensues.

Not actual confusion as in the interpreter doesn’t understand the meaning. Confusion as in the meaning the interpreter understands does not fit in the rhythm that the interpreter’s brain has established. The rhythmic conflict causes the interpreter to second guess their understanding instead of seeing the flaw as a result their processing and production.

“Good to know,” you say. “What do I do about it?”

Ah. That’s the fun part.

Start with prosody.

Figure out how the person for whom you are interpreting “makes themselves understood.” How do they show the beginning of an idea and the end of an idea. Figure out how they separate concepts that should be separated and connect propositions that must be connected. That is ALWAYS the first step.

Once you’ve got their discourse down, summarize in your head what happens in-between the beginning of an idea and the end of that idea. Then do the same with the next and the next…

A true summary is what you’d get if you threw the concept in a pot and boiled it down for 8 days.

The essence of the concept without the frills.

If you produced nothing but this idea the Client would have the required information (but none of it will be pretty).

Got it?

Now apply Uncle Dale’s Model of Interpreting to your summary.

Understand it in language A, say it in language B.

The Uncle Dale Model of Interpreting.

If you are working from ASL to Spoken English then understand it in Deaf and say it in Hearing.

If you are working from Spoken English to ASL the understand it in Hearing and say it in Deaf.

As needed apply the tool I gave you in the Note about necessity breeding simplicity I posted above.

If you pay attention to the meaning and not the form you can escape the Rhythm Trap.

Seems so simple.

For many of us it seems too simple.

That’s the problem. Big, insurmountable issues are often mentally and emotionally easier to deal with. If they are to big to fix we don’t need to try to fix them and we can tell ourselves to just be happy where we are.


Big, insurmountable issues are rare.

Most of the time we look well beyond the actual issue because we believe the problem that has caused us so much frustration can’t be that simple.

But quite often, it is.

Let’s be honest. Simple solutions beg to be implemented. If the issue CAN be addressed we are honor bound to try to fix it. That means we have to practice. We HAVE to put the work in.


Maybe, we think, it would be better if there was just a flaw inside of us that we can’t fix because, well, that seems easier, less labor intensive.

Here is the most important part. Pay attention. Ready?

You can do this.

There is nothing “wrong” with your brain or your abilities. The issue is nothing that a well adjusted interpreter can’t work through.

It’s all just a matter of seeing the steps you need to take and then taking them.

You’ll be fine. Just work the process.


*I’m not.

It’s A New Year!

Hello family! First of all I want to thank everyone for their concern about my absence. The outpouring of love this year continues and I am overwhelmed by the many and specific acts of kindness and thoughtful notes I have received.

I am fine.

I am better than I have been in a long while.

I took a little break to work on the book but then this happened…

This beautiful gift is the daughter of my son who we lost to suicide in July.

She arrived and everything else kind of went away for a while.

As I have said in my Rules in various ways no job or task is important enough to require you to abandon your family and the love and support of friends.

Truth be told, the book is only slightly more complete than it was. But my heart has undergone a healing miracle. I have the peace that can only come from looking into the eyes of my granddaughter (not used to that one yet) and realize I need my heart to be whole so she can break it for herself each time she leaves my arms.

She is not my son. She is who she is and who she will be.

She is all attitude and smiles like he was as a baby, but she is also herself.

But I can feel him. Wanting to hold her so I do it for him. It’s been my job for a minute-it took me a minute to overcome my fear, it went away the moment she looked at me-I could make this a full time job.

I am back though. I have a whole crop of new Rules and Notes and Random Thoughts on what you Probably Should Know.

I am starting out with a hard one for me. It makes me a bit nervous because it’s self reflective in a way I am not used to.

But that is for tomorrow. Today I am Grandpa Uncle Dale. Gruncle (Yes I know that is Gravity Falls but I’m retasking it for my own purposes).

Today is for this:

See you tomorrow.

Gruncle Dale.

Random Thoughts From Uncle Dale: 2018 End of the Year Post

Between Christmas and New Years I like to repost the most “popular” posts from the year.

This year that is an odd prospect because, as many of you know, I had some traumatic life events that caused some of my posts to be shared by this wonderful, loving community many more times than others. These posts were shared as much for the emotion as the content.

That gives me pause to think about what I mean when I say “popular.”

That is usually just a calculation of the most views. But, as I said, this year I cannot rely on the most viewed being the most helpful.

So I came to a decision. In this post I will include a few of those more emotionally powerful posts that may have skewed the numbers as far as views and start with the most viewed posts that are more directed at the experience of the interpreter and skill development tomorrow.

Thank you. Thank you all for the love you’ve shown this year for both me and my family.

1. Real Talk With Aunt SuperTam

2. An Open Letter to Lin-Manuel Miranda.

3. This is Where You Are.

Love to you all!


Rule 671

Never mistake the main idea for the point.

The main idea is what you’re talking about.

The point is why you talked about it.

The main idea is built from the beginning.

The point usually comes at the end.

Understanding the main idea gives your interpretation structure.

Understanding the point gives your interpretation closure.

There is always a main idea.

Sometimes there is no point.

Rule 665

Uncle Dale’s Law Tip For Interpreters:

The key to a good non-negotiable contract term is, don’t negotiate it.

It’s right there in the name.

The most powerful party in any negotiation is the one willing to walk away.

Note from Uncle Dale: Use of Space as an Analysis Tool Or Arts And Crafts For Understanding.

Hi. Uncle Dale here.

It’s been a while since I gave you a skill development tool. This one requires supplies, but it’s worth it.

Listen to the text below:


My class thought so (apparently, I am “mean” even though I let them play with toys… wait for it, I’ll explain).

I will admit the point was to shake them up a little… but in a good way, a kind and loving boot to the brain, tap you lightly with a sledge-hammer kind of way.

Before you decide that you really just don’t like me, let me tell you a secret.

If you understand one term, just one single key word, in this text, you can use that as the anchor to simplify the whole meaning, by seeing how all the pieces attach to that key concept and fit together physically. If you start from that key term, then in your head you can work through the meaning of rest of the text.

In other words, by using space properly and according to its linguistic function in ASL you can, on the fly, connect things you don’t understand to things you do understand and voila! You understand it all.

If! And only if, you understand the key term.

For the text above the term is: “Fields.”

If you understand what the term “Fields” means in the context of this computer program then you can visualize everything that proceeds from the core concept of “Fields.” If you can visualize it, and then put it in its proper space, its meaning will become clear to you as you use the space in the linguistically appropraite manner for ASL.

Let me say that again.

If you use space in the correct way it will help you analyze the meaning of the information you are processing even if it sound too complex to comprehend.

In the case of the text above you just have to see in your head how software programs like this work, as if they existed in and occupied space in the real world. The easiest way to teach yourself to do that involves Arts and Crafts.

And it all starts with the key to understanding your starting place; “Fields.”

Got it?


Ok, calm down. let me back up.

First, relax.  I know that showing up at an appointment where they say, “ok, were going to train you on the new accounting software today…” makes you want to yell, “I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ACCOUNTING OR ACCOUNTING PROGRAMS! I SMELL TOAST!” and collapse to the floor.

But before you abandon all hope let me give you some persective.

They did not say, “today we are going to discuss accounting programs,” They said, “today we’re training on the new program.”

That means there is an old program.

That means there is a strong possibility that your Client is already familiar with computerized accounting programs generally because they used the “old program.” At least more familiar than you are. Never underestimate the benefit of a client who knows more about the topic than you do. It covers a multitude of sins.

Second, you know what accounting means so you have the bare minimum of a schema, and that is all you need here.

So let’s get back to “Fields.”

In computer programs “Fields” are places where you put variable values of information in order to complete a sequence.

In other words they are the blank places you type stuff into in order to tell the computer to do something with the words or numbers you typed.

Think of a Google search.

The place on the Google search page you type the words “Does this look infected to you” before you push the “search” button? That is a “Field.”

Once you have typed, “what’s a good place to eat on a second date” or “what is Uncle Dale smoking” into the “Field” and pushed “search” (or I’m Feeling Lucky if you’re a reckless adventurer) the information you typed into the “Field” tells Google to do something; go out to the web and fetch things with words that match this stuff I just typed in this box.

So, how does that possibly help you analyze for meaning?

Like this:

Although software programs are just ones and zeros, if you, the interpreter, can see the software’s functions in your mind as physical locations, occupying a three-dimensional landscape (think of the movie TRON if that helps), then you can organize all that seemingly complex jumble of data points into usable locations within your own interpreting space.

Once you’ve done that then it’s just a matter of referring to the objects that you have appropriately placed within your signing space to establish what Carol Patrie calls, “relationships” (logical, temporal, and physical).

Relationships show the order of, or connections between, the landmarks you established within the three-dimensional “computer program space” you created. You got this!

You will eventually want to do this in your head. But it is easier to start out by doing in real space.

Ok. So here is a little exercise help you take it out of your head, put it in real space, so you can put it back in your head.

In order to play along at home you will need the following:

A good sized long table;

Two wire framed office baskets;

Three different colors of string, yarn or tape:

A set of large post-notes;

A set of small post-it notes (at least three different colors); and,


Here is how you play:

Before there was Direct or Private messaging there was text and before that e-mail and before that faxes and before that intra-office mail and before that pneumatic tubes.

Pneumatic tubes? Think of the drive-up window at a bank, or an old movie. You put the stuff in the tube and seal it (papers, money, pens… that kind of thing). Each tube in this case goes not only to a different room in the office, but to the desks of specific people. One set of tubes connects to every desk, another only to select persons.

We could use text or email for the visual but pneumatic tunes are easier to visualize and, let’s be honest, sort of steam punk and fun.

So, pneumatic tubes.

Imagine a room in an office building with the where the pneumatic tubes start.

At one end of the table in front of you place the wire “in/out” baskets, side by side. Using the 3×5 cards and a sharpie (marker) label both baskets “Payroll Fields” and label one Flat Rate and the other Calculated Rate.

At various places on the table place 3×5 with Employee 1, Employee 2, Employee 3… up-to at most Employee 6. It’s easiest if you tape them down.

Now take the different colors of string or tape. Using one color of tape or string for each in/out basket connect each in/out basket to All Employees and using different colors of tape or string connect each in/out basket to Some Employees.

These are the pneumatic tubes. Some things put in the in/out basket will be sent to all the employees and somethings will only be sent to select individual employees.

These baskets are “Fields.” Some of the things you put in the “Fields” will be attached to all employees and some of the things you put in the basket will connect to only some employees.

Using tape make a square on the table around both in/out baskets. Label that square “employee defaults window.”

Ok ready, replay the audio above (For some reason when I imbedded this the captions don’t work-hearing interpreters and CDI’s should do this exercise together until I can post a transcript) and see if what you have on the table helps you follow the narrative more clearly.

Now every detail you need is not here yet. But I have given you the start. For example:

You will eventually need two 3×5 card labeled “maintain employees and sales reps” at the place where all the “pneumatic tube” hook to the in/out baskets.

When you get to the payroll taxes you will need two 3×5 cards, one labeled State Tax and one labeled Federal Tax. Where do these formulae live? In the wire in/out basket market Calculated Rate.

Oh oh we have a problem. What if we subscribe to the Peachtree Tax Update Service? Where does that live? Take a 3×5 card and write Peachtree Tax Update Service and place it… somewhere else. It does not live in the software program-you get it from the Peachtree server. Set the 3×5 card somewhere and then, using your tape or string connect it to the Calculated Rate basket on the opposite side from the “pneumatic tubes” to remind yourself that this is coming in from the outside.

If you get really ambitious you can write Peach-tree Maintained on the tape or make a label for the string coming into the back of the Calculated Rate in/out basket.

Now the text above. Anything you put in the in/out baskets travels along the string or tape (pneumatic tubes) to impact the paychecks of the employees at the other end–some will impact all employees and some will only be sent out to select employees.

If this all seems confusing or too much, that is because you are reading this Note and not actually doing the arts and crafts project.

Do the project.

It will freak you out just a little how much more you understand if you see this all existing in actual physical space.

The use of physical space is a component of ASL grammar, but correctly applied it is also a functional analysis tool.

I make students draw pictures, play with dolls and Fisher-Price Little Town sets and a whole host of other physical exercises so they can visualize Physical, Temporal and Logical Relationships.

If you are just starting out or if you have 25 years under your belt, try coupling your practice with an arts and crafts project like this.

You will be amazed at how much it helps you understand if you are willing to take a minute on playing with dolls or just good old fashioned arts and crafts.