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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 number of lexical items and syntactic nonmanual signals in the signed interpretations were analyzed because they were deemed to be crucial to the comprehensibility of the signed output. As reasonable as it may seem to assume that the frequency of appropriate lexical items and the frequency of syntactic nonmanual signals are correlates of comprehensibility, it is nonetheless an assumption. Therefore, the signed interpretations were submitted to native ASL users for their judgments of comprehensibility.

s u b j e c t s

A total of ten subjects provided comprehensibility judgments. Each of the subjects was a native signer of ASL. A native signer is a Deaf individual who acquired ASL as their first language prior to the age of seven. All of the Deaf subjects use ASL as their primary means of communication. Other social characteristics of the ten subjects are set forth in the table 3.

The social characteristic Institution refers to whether a subject had attended a Deaf boarding school for their primary and secondary educations. Except for the small minority of Deaf individuals who have Deaf parents, Deaf boarding schools are the primary loci of ASL acquisition for native signers. To ensure only native signers provided comprehensibility judgments, the subject judges in this study were limited to individuals who had attended such Deaf institutions.

table 3. Sociolinguistic Characteristics of Deaf Subjects


Age Sex Deaf Parents Deaf Siblings Race Education
1 20 M No No Black Institution
2 60 F No Yes White Institution
3 61 M No Yes White Institution
4 35 M Yes Yes White Institution
5 22 M No No White Institution
6 20 F Yes No White Institution
7 42 F No No White Institution
8 31 F Yes Yes White Institution
9 33 M Yes Yes White Institution
10 45 M No No White Institution

d a t a  c o l l e c t i o n  a n d  a n a l y s i s

The signed interpretations were recorded onto videotape in random order. Only the signed interpretations of the Miranda warning and the interrogation were included. An instruction in ASL followed each signed interpretation instructing the subject to stop the video and record his or her judgments regarding comprehensibility onto the accompanying score sheet. In addition, because Deaf individuals’ command of English is variable, the signed instructions on the video also explained the scores set forth in English on the accompanying score sheet.

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