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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Attitudes, Innuendo, and Regulators: Challenges of Interpretation

Melanie Metzger and
Earl Fleetwood, Editors

from Part Two: Practice

What Are You Suggesting?
Interpreting Innuendo Between ASL and English

Shaun Tray

Interpretation of innuendo is a complicated undertaking. This is true for monolingual users of a language, but even more so for professionals who are interpreting live and interactive discourse. To gain a better understanding of effective strategies for interpreting innuendo, one must first understand innuendo and its form and function in both languages involved. To study innuendo, one must investigate numerous components of language that make up, or function as, innuendo. Chief among those are humor and indirectness. To understand a speakerís intent, an addressee must have reached a level of communicative competence to recognize the speakerís contextualization cues. Both the cues and the competence to recognize them are culturally bound. Therefore an interpreter working interlingually and cross-culturally must have the appropriate level of competence in each language. Even so, systemic problems related to the use of innuendo within interpreted encounters may affect the outcome. In order to gain a better understanding of the ways in which interpreters convey innuendo in American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpreted interaction, this study addresses both the conveyance of innuendo by native Deaf signers of ASL and the interpretation of innuendo from English into ASL. For this study, two Deaf actors performed an English script in ASL, and two interpreters interpreted an audio version of the script into ASL. The script is fraught with innuendo. The performances and interpretations were analyzed to determine the strategies used to convey the humor and insinuation by native signers of ASL and ASL-English interpreters.


Defining Innuendo

By its most pedestrian definition, innuendo is a hint or sly, usually derogatory, remark or an insinuation. Conversationally, it may be represented by zingers, sarcasm, witticisms, double entendre, and similar wordplay like verbal parody, irony, and understatement. For this paper, innuendo is defined as utterances that carry an implicit derogatory meaning aimed at a particular target, often guised with humorous intent or faux naivetť. What most of the contemporary research calls punning would comply with this definition of innuendo. Punning, however, is an insufficient label because it fails to capture the same conversational impact created by ellipses, ambiguity, and allusions. For interpreters, this broad definition allows for a variety of communicative events that pose similar challenges to the task of conveying a message from the source language (SL) to the target language (TL). Foremost of those challenges is the issue of form versus meaning. It is a characteristic of languages that one form may express numerous meanings, and one meaning may be expressed through numerous forms (Larson, 1998). For interpreters, figurative use of language presents a potential difficulty because they must determine the speakerís intent for choosing the nonprimary meaning.

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