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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Language and the Law in Deaf Communities

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The beginning interpreters were college students nearing completion of their second ASL course at an accredited interpreter training program. The students who participated in the study were randomly selected from the class roster. The subjects had a hearing instructor for their first course and a Deaf teacher for their second course. Signing Naturally, Level I by Vista was the curriculum used for both of their sign courses.

The intermediate interpreters were also college students in an interpreter training program. They had completed at least eight five-credit-hour ASL-interpreting college courses. The subjects were randomly selected from a roster of all students enrolled in a yearlong interpreting practicum course.

The advanced interpreters—two holding full Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and National Association of the Deaf (NAD) certifications and one who was also the oldest son of Deaf parents—were selected from the Cincinnati area on the basis of their credentials. One of the certified interpreters had no experience interpreting in legal settings. The other certified interpreter had a moderate amount of experience interpreting in legal settings. The interpreter with Deaf parents had extensive experience interpreting in legal settings.

d a t a  c o l l e c t i o n

The interpreters were asked to interpret the spoken discourse played for them from an audiotape. The audiotape discourse was composed of the five stretches of discourse that are charted in figure 1.

Each section of the audiotape included a brief description of the upcoming stretch of discourse. The description included the setting for the discourse (e.g., witness oath, an interrogation, etc.) and the participants (e.g., lawyer, person suspected of entering country illegally, etc.). The subjects were not told which stretches of discourse would be the focus of the study.

Of the five stretches of discourse, only the Miranda warning (section C) and the interrogation (section E) were analyzed. A transcript of section C (the Miranda warning) and section E (the interrogation) are set forth in Appendices B and C of this paper. The text for section E was based on an actual interrogation of a defendant by a lawyer, which was related in The Bilingual Courtroom by Susan Berk-Seligson. Two actors performed the interrogation on the audiotape—one taking the role of the lawyer and the other taking the role of the defendant.

The room monitor took each subject into a room for videotaping. Each subject was told to interpret, to the best of his or her ability, the five sections of discourse they were about to hear on the audiotape. Each subject was then left alone to interpret. The interpretations were all cold, that is, subjects could not stop the audio- or videotape or repeat any portion of either.




A Warm-up narrative—farm story five minutes
B Swearing in and perjury penalty— thirty seconds
  “Do you swear to tell the truth …”  
C Miranda warning one minute
C Defense closing argument excerpt of five minutes
  Louise Woodward “nanny” trial  

Interrogation of Robert Lopez

three minutes

figure i. The five stretches of discourse from the audiotape

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