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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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d a t a  a n a l y s i s

The signed interpretations of the Miranda warning and the interrogation were analyzed for two linguistic elements deemed crucial to comprehensibility: (1) number of appropriate lexical items; and (2) frequency of syntactic nonmanual signals. All data analysis was performed by the same analyst, myself, eliminating the skew that can arise from subjective differences between multiple analysts.

The number of appropriate lexical items refers to the number of correct words for each stretch of discourse. Two characteristics of lexical items are important to analyzing the number of correct words in a stretch of discourse. First, what is a word? Second, should lexical nonmanual signals counted as words?

The concept of a word in ASL is somewhat similar to that of English. In English, a word such as refried (as in refried beans) is a single word even though it is composed of two meaningful units: re- and fried. In linguistic terms, it is a morphologically complex word composed of two morphemes. Although it is composed of two meaningful units, native English speakers nonetheless recognize it as a single word.

Likewise, ASL has words, some that are morphologically complex and some that are morphologically simple. For example, the concept of against you is signed in ASL using a single sign that is morphologically complex. Part of the sign indicates the verb to be against, and the other part of the sign indicates the object of the sign, that is, you. Although morphologically complex, it is nonetheless recognized as a single sign by native ASL signers. Accordingly, morphologically complex words were counted as single lexical items. In addition, fingerspelled items such as m-e-x-i-c-o were counted as a single word.

The next question is whether lexical nonmanual signals should be counted as words. As already discussed, whereas many nonmanual signals in ASL are syntactic, many carry lexical meaning (e.g., careless, small, recently, etc.). These are part of the lexicon (or vocabulary) of ASL. For the purpose of this study, however, word counts were limited to manual signs (signs formed with the hands) to achieve clear comparisons between interpreters. But, it is recognized that the word counts for each interpreter might change slightly if lexical signals were also included in the word counts.

A word count was calculated for each interpretation of the two stretches of discourse—the Miranda warning and the interrogation. From these individual counts, average word counts by skill level group were also calculated for both.

The second factor analyzed was the frequency of syntactic nonmanual signals. The signed interpretations were analyzed for the frequency of the following syntactic signals:

  1. Affirmation
  2. Negation
  3. Yes/No Question
  4. Wh- Question
  5. Conditionals
  6. Listing
  7. Topicalization
  8. Comparative Structure
  9. Role Shift

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