Royal wedding: William said, ‘You look lovely.’ Or did he?

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Royal wedding: William said, ‘You look lovely.’ Or did he?” was written by Charlie Swinbourne, for theguardian.com on Sunday 1st May 2011 16.00 UTC

Reading lip patterns is vital in helping deaf people fill in the words they can’t hear. I’m partially deaf, and I’ve been lipreading ever since I learned to speak. As well as being a vital part of communication, it’s also fun. I’ve lipread couples bickering in restaurants, footballers telling referees exactly what they think of them, and on Friday, the royal wedding.

During a national event at which the protagonists were visible but crucially not audible, hundreds of deaf people, including my partner and I, added our translations to Twitter in real time. We soon found out that several deaf friends of ours had thought ahead and were actually getting paid for it; working for national news outlets, one working for a series of tabloids and another, for a 24-hour news channel and a magazine.

What was funny was just how often the translations differed from each other. For instance, did William tell Kate at the altar “You look – er, you are beautiful“, or did he say: “You look lovely?”Or, as we thought, did he say: “You look stunning, by the way. Very beautiful.” Then there was the Telegraph, which initially reported William as saying: “You look stunning babe!’

The differences in translation proved that lipreading, far from being some kind of super-power deaf people have (and a great gimmick in movies featuring deaf characters), depends heavily – it’s said 70%-90% – on guesswork. I recently visited a lipreading class to test out my skills, and found that even with a lifetime’s worth of experience, there were still words I struggled to make out.

Ultimately it was all pretty harmless. The only people who knew exactly what had been said at the altar were unavailable for interview, and even if accuracy was in question, lipreaders played a key role in giving news outlets – and the nation – some idea of what had been said. So it turned out to be a day when lipreading finally reached wider prominence.

The day also turned out pretty well for my partner and I. Our tweets led to us being asked to provide some translations of our own for a terrestial news programme. We did our best, and our interpretation went out on the news that very night. Though we told the programme it was impossible to be certain, we felt sure our translations were very accurate indeed. But then, we would say that.

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