16. Sound


During the filming of a video for Deaf people, sound is usually not recorded. To allow non-signing people access to the signed information, a voice-over is often added during the post-production stage. This is especially important for videos for Deaf children, most of whom grow up in hearing families, and for other videos that will be viewed by mixed Deaf-hearing audiences. 

The voice-over and other sounds added to a video should meet the expectations and requirements of hearing people who don't know sign language. 

For some productions, background music, sound, or sound-effects can be added to make the production more effective and attractive for hearing viewers.

For Deaf viewers, functional sounds (songs, phone ringing, sirens, etc.) should bevisualised. For hard-of-hearing viewers the voice-over should not be played simultaneously with background music or other background sounds; in interactive productions, the user should be able to select what sounds are played (voice-over, music, other sounds), and should be able to set the volume for each sound track separately.

No sound 

In most sign language productions, no sound is recorded during the filming. Exceptions may be productions for mixed Deaf-hearing audiences, filmed on location. For hearing people, it may be alienating to see a car drive by, or a door slam shut without the accompanying sounds. If no sound was recorded during the filming, some background music or sound effects can be added, to fill in 'gaps' left by the voice-over. 

A voice-over

Many videos for mixed hearing-Deaf target groups, have a voice-over. The voice-over is usually added after the video has been edited. 

A trained voice ...

Most production teams prefer a trained radio voice or reader for the voice-over. It is not required that the voice-over understand sign language. The voice-over will read the text, while a sign language interpreter watches the signer on the video and cues the reader with respect to reading speed, pauses, loudness, register, etc. 

... matched to the signer 

The voice-over should preferably match the signer in gender, age, register, and dialect. When there is more than one signer in a video, each signer should preferably have his/her own voice-over. 

... matched to the content 

The text read for the voice-over should be a correct representation of what is signed. The text should be well written, and when read out loud, should sound natural to hearing native speakers. The text can either be the original printed text that the signer used as his/her source text, or a back-translation from what the signer has actually signed in front of the camera. What is preferred will depend on the objective of the video and the resources available (a back-translation will be more costly).

'In sync'

The voice-over should be synchronised as well as possible with the signing. The voice-over is added for hearing people who do not know sign language; it is therefore more important that the voice-over sounds natural and is easy to listen to, than that the voice-over is perfectly 'in sync' with the signer. 
If the signer needs more time than the voice-over, the voice-over should not pause within sentences (matching the signer's pace at word level), but at natural breaks in the text, e.g. at the end of paragraphs. If it is necessary for the voice-over to insert a pause at the very beginning of a production, or at the beginning of a new segment, hearing users may wonder why they can't hear anything and may start looking for the volume control. This can be avoided by adding some background music or some other background sounds during longer pauses in the voice-over.
If a production has both a voice-over and subtitles, the voice-over is best synchronised with the subtitles.

Deaf viewers 

In original sign language productions and in productions with a superimposed signer, functional sound should either be signed or visualised in some other way for Deaf viewers (e.g. by means of animations, see Chapter 14). Music can be described, songs (including title songs!) can be signed.

Hard-of-hearing viewers 

For hard-of-hearing viewers, it is important that a voice-over does not overlap with background music or sound effects. In interactive productions, users should have the option to have no sound at all, a voice-over but no background music, or a voice-over and background music. The user should be able to set the volume for each audio-channel, independent of the others.


Female signer, male voice-over  
The video "Aspecten van de Vlaams-Belgische Gebarentaal" is signed by a female signer. The voice-over that was added is not an exact translation of the text signed by the signer, but a narrator who describes what is signed on the screen. To avoid misunderstandings (e.g. that the voice-over is the actual voice of the signer, and/or that the voice-over is an exact translation of the sign language) the production team decided to use a male voice instead of a female voice.

Deaf voices?  

"De man, de stad en het boek" (Handtheater, NL) is a play for three Deaf signers, that was performed on stage by three Deaf actors in the Netherlands. The play was later produced on video also. The video production is not a live recording of one of the performances, but was studio-recorded. The three signers in the video however, are the same actors that performed the play on stage.
The (hearing) producer, who had no previous experience with sign language productions, recorded all sounds during the production, including the sounds made by the Deaf actors: footsteps, books opening and closing, as well as their vocalisations. 
During the editing a neutral city-noise was added as a background to these 'live' sounds, because the production didn't sound quite right to the producer: it was 'too empty'. For hearing viewers, the video-production now 'sounds' as the play was performed on stage: all the 'live' sounds made by the actors, against a background of grey city-noise.