They were hanging on his every word — and gesture, body movement, and definitely the facial expressions.
Jonathan Lamberton, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sign language interpreter, is getting a blizzard of attention for his highly animated ways that were on full display during recent weather briefings.
Standing a short distance away as de Blasio delivered serious warnings about impending snow, Lamberton, a certified deaf interpreter, was a whirlwind of movement — big gestures, incorporating his whole body, along with a variety of facial movements.
It was enough to get the 38-year-old man a whole lot of buzz — on social media, websites, even on the “Daily Show,” where host Jon Stewart crowned him “Best Silent Mayoral Hype Man” and said, “That is some New York sign language.”
It’s actually American Sign Language, but the way Lamberton speaks it makes the difference. Born deaf to deaf parents, he grew up communicating in ASL, essentially making it his native tongue. So when he signs, it’s with the full range of expressiveness deaf people use with each other, he said Wednesday in an online chat with The Associated Press.
“I think ASL has typically been depicted to the public in the ‘nicer’ form that hearing people are able to use, and that deaf people typically use with hearing people,” Lamberton said. “The ASL that deaf people use among each other hasn’t been seen on screen much so I think that’s part of the reason people reacted so strongly.”
Lamberton said the way he signs is more accessible to a wider swath of deaf people. The freelance interpreter first worked with the city a few months ago when Ebola was being discussed. He works with a hearing partner who translates what is being said into ASL, which Lamberton then puts into a form that’s broadly understandable. At some of the recent mayoral briefings, that partner happened to be his wife.
He hasn’t been following the media commentary about him too much, he said, and has been focused on doing his job, but said he appreciated the opportunity to inform the wider hearing world more fully about ASL.
“A lot of people seem to be enjoying my work and while that’s well and nice, I’m not there for their entertainment or to steal anyone’s show, I’m there to communicate critical information to the deaf community,” he said. “But people are seeing how beautiful ASL can be, and I’m happy about that.”
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