Gallaudet University Press

5:12 Friday, December 19, 2003

Misunderstandings, Wrongful Convictions,
and Deaf People

Language Problems in the Legal Setting

Even with proper legal counsel, the average hearing person could find it difficult to comprehend the language and culture of the law in the United States. Considering this likelihood, the legal predicaments for deaf individuals who communicate only using American Sign Language (ASL) are compounded by the language barrier. Language and the Law in Deaf Communities, the ninth volume in the Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities series, focuses upon such situations using “forensic linguistics” as its lens. Forensic linguistics entails “the area where language and the law intersect,” explains series editor Ceil Lucas in the introduction.

The creator of the field of forensic linguistics, Roger Shuy, defines the general problem in his contribution to Language and the Law. “Differences in language go hand in hand with differences in culture, since language is an integral part of culture. The culture of the legal process is foreign to most Americans. Nowhere else do we need someone else to do our talking for us. Nowhere else are we prevented from introducing our own topics and telling our stories in our own way. Nowhere else are we forbidden to interrupt the other speaker or ask our own questions. Nowhere else must we be ever vigilant to the language traps posed by the other side. In short, nowhere else are we prevented from using our own ideas in our own voice. And if this is problematic for the average person, it is much more so for the inarticulate and less educated, the speaker of a different dialect, the speaker of a different language, and those who do not speak and hear at all.”

The following chapters by other noted contributors with varying backgrounds spotlight the meeting of language and the law in Deaf communities, an intersection that Lucas describes as “wide, deep, and of consequence in the lives of everyday deaf people.” For more insight into the difficulties experienced by deaf persons in the legal arena, read attorney and linguist Rob Hoopes chapter, Trampling Miranda: Interrogating Deaf Suspects, and order Language and the Law at a special savings of 20% off the regular price.

The November issue of Library Bookwatch, an official newsletter of The Midwest Book Review, states that Marcia B. Dugans Living with Hearing Loss is a “user-friendly resource and a must-read for anyone coping with hearing loss in themselves or a loved one.” In addition, Dugan, past president of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH), is praised for providing readers with a straightforward guidebook and reference to day-to-day life and adaptation to hearing loss. Living with Hearing Loss presents complete information about hearing loss from the early signs, to distinguishing between fact and fiction, to discussing the different types and causes. Also included are resources and related Internet sites on hearing loss. Read Library Bookwatchs complete review and order Living with Hearing Loss.

The Second International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference, sponsored by the Gallaudet University Press Institute, will be held on February 19-21, 2004 at the Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Inspired by the success of the initial Deaf in Academia Workshop in March 2002, the Deaf Academics Organization (www.deafacademics.org) formed to foster interaction among deaf academics and researchers from diverse disciplines. The results of these deliberations will be shared at this singular conference. For more information and to register, go online to: http://deafacademics.gallaudet.edu/.

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