headshot of Anne Leahyby Anne Leahy, MA, CI/CT, NAD V
The Deaf-centered political and cultural revivalism within the interpreting field is growing in strength and numbers. Stump speeches in public meetings and Internet fora repeat the received account of an allegiant apparatus to signing communities, and emphasize our formation out of the Deaf-world. Such rhetoric exerts a powerful influence, but teaching folk history alone may be a disservice to students and practicing interpreters. A complementary and thoroughgoing analysis grounded in data can be equal parts practical and compelling.
The identity of hearing interpreters as professionals galvanized in the United States during the 1960s, but the best practices governing that role were codified centuries earlier. In her recent thesis, Anne Leahy uncovers the common law innovations which forged interpreting protocols and praxis—recognizable by contemporary standards—before educational institutions, standardized signed languages, and Deaf-led communities were founded. Sample milestones in that legal pedigree include:

The first proto-interpreters were sign-conversant, self-selected intermediaries. Centuries later, culturally-appointed, and finally professionally-trained people inherited the role. Currently, all of these pipelines persist, ideally united in purpose if not function: due process for both the deaf party and the legal system, so that each may access the other. As our creation narrative extends further into the past, the more recent lived memory of twentieth-century advancements is recast as the middle of the story, and a more nuanced discourse can temper emotion with evidence.


Leahy, A. M. (2015). Interpreted communication with deaf parties under Anglo–American common law to 1880. (Master’s thesis). Southern Utah University, Cedar City, UT.

About the Author

Anne Leahy has been in the interpreting field for 25 years. Returning to her academic roots of research and writing, she offers her work as inadequate repayment to the communities which earned her decades of rich experiences.
For more information, see www.anneleahy.com/pubs.