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American Annals of the Deaf

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From Topic Boundaries to Omission: New Research on Interpretation

Melanie Metzger, Steven Collins,
Valerie Dively, and Risa Shaw, Editors

Part Two: The Interpretation of Monologic Discourse

Marking Topic Boundaries in Signed Interpretation and Transliteration

Elizabeth Winston and Christine Monikowski

This chapter presents some preliminary findings from a comparison of interpreted and transliterated texts. It focuses primarily on the prosodic features used for indicating major topic segments in a spoken-English source text. For this chapter, we discuss the similarities and differences among the segment boundaries as they are produced by three interpreters.[1] These interpreters produced signed target interpretations and transliterations of the same source text, providing an opportunity to compare prosodic and linguistic features used in each type of target. The interpreters were qualified, internationally recognized experts in interpretation and transliteration. Although we have many long-term goals for this overall research, we narrowed the focus of this chapter to a very few features and strategies. This narrowing resulted from our experience as interpreter educators, from frequent questions asked by interpreting and transliterating students, and from the texts themselves.


As interpreter educators, we have experienced difficulty when trying to provide students with adequate information and research-based guidance about the differences between interpreting and transliterating. Although a growing body of research about interpreting, prosody, and American Sign Language (ASL) is available to interpreting educators, only a small amount of research exists about transliteration. Some of this research is demographic, for example, how or where interpreting is taught, who uses it, and so forth (Stauffer & Viera, 2000). One study investigates the effectiveness of interpreting as compared with transliterating (Livingston, Singer, & Abramson, 1995). Early research focusing primarily on lexical choice, sentence structure, mouthing, and some specific strategies used in transliteration was done by Winston (1989); Siple provided more research and expanded the description of these strategies, providing more in-depth information in the area of additions (1995) and in the reflection of source-language pausing in signed transliterations (1993).

A recent study by Sofinski, Yesbeck, Gerhold, and Bach-Hansen (2001) focused on language features used by educational interpreters in transliteration. Nine features were identified as common to the transliterations in the study, including use of space for listing, mouthing, syntax choices, and lexical choices. The features were further identified as being English-based or ASL-based. McIntire (1993) analyzed the potential and real use of space in signed transliterations.

Studies about prosody and teaching prosody are also rare. In an early study, Winston (1990) investigated the possibility of improving prosody (referred to as “gestalt” in that study) through teaching. The features of the overall signed “gestalt” were not identified, but she found that focused teaching through selective watching and shadowing (based on techniques described by Nida, 1953) could be effective in improving the gestalt of interpreting students.

1. We gratefully acknowledge the permission we received from Sign Enhancers, Inc., to include the still photos we used to illustrate our examples.
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