Each year the Music: Count Us In program song is released as an Auslan translation. This is done with the help of students and teachers from the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) Thomas Pattison School. This year Melina Williams, a teacher at the school, in collaboration with a handful of students, created this year’s translation. “First we look at the title and talk about it,” said Melina. “We discuss what ‘One Song’ means. Then we start with the chorus.”
The process isn’t clear cut. The differences between the Auslan and English languages mean different people could come up with completely different translations. “There’s not a sign for every word in the English language so we have to think about the meaning of a whole line instead of just individual words. There can also be multiple signs for the same word,” said Melina. “This meant that there were different options for different lines in the song. Sometimes when asking the students which sign we should use for a phrase or word there would be quite a few preferences. Then we’d have to put it to a vote.”
The translation also has to take into account the fact that many song lyrics aren’t trying to convey the literal meaning of the words. “The line in the bridge – you may be small but you can change it all – is quite tricky to sign,” said Melina. “We aren’t trying to say you are physically small so we used the sign for alone/independent. Then we used the signs for it doesn’t matter, you can succeed/make a change,” she said.
When considering the differences between speaking and singing, there is a similar element of expression involved in signing a song. “When creating the translation for One Song we don’t look at it as just a translation but a performance,” Melina said. “For some words we would make the action a lot bigger or more exaggerated than you would if you were just using the word in conversation. It has to look good as well as having the right meaning. It’s quite a creative process which makes it really enjoyable.”
The Auslan language has another substantial difference: the context of a word will determine what sign is used. “When using a word like on or off, the sign depends on what it is you are turning on or off – an oven, a light or a TV. The sign for turning on a TV looks like pressing a button on a remote. The sign to turn on a light it looks like flicking a light switch… It can be quite intuitive because some signs look like what you’re talking about. A lot of the time this is the case with signs for animals. To sign ‘butterfly’ you flap your hands mimicking the movement of a butterfly,” said Melina.
Melina Williams has been communicating with Auslan from a very early age. “I’m a CODA – a Child of Deaf Adults. Mum and Dad are both deaf” she says. “I learned to sign before I learned to talk. Auslan is my first language.”
The Auslan translation of ‘One Song’ can be viewed through the Music: Count Us In YouTube channel right here.