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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Turn-Taking, Fingerspelling, and Contact in Signed Languages

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Clearly, in this case of overlap, the interpreter decides to halt the turn of the chairperson and to allow the Deaf teacher to start a turn. (Compare Roy’s first option: “The interpreter can stop one or both speakers and, in that way, halt the turn of one speaker, allowing the other speaker to continue” [1993, 350].) The chairperson’s turn, which the interpreter interrupted, started with “Now . . .”, which often signals a transition-relevant moment. The interpreter recognized the utterance as this kind of signal and decided to interrupt the chairperson. So at this point, the interpreter is the one who allocates the next turn and the one who manages the organization of turn taking.

In example 5 (taken from the same meeting as example 4), the interpreter clearly is confused and does not know whether to interpret from sign to voice or from voice to sign. She apparently decides to interpret from sign to voice, probably because the Deaf person had started first and she had focused on what he was signing, but this decision required her to interrupt the chairperson.

Example 5.

W. (Deaf teacher):           shall see who support working group responsible

W.:     coordination etc. working group see who support
Chair:[18]                       Will you later on make an appointment for that, eh very

W.:     coordinate
Chair:  concretely, or
Inter.:  W. also says, sorry, W. also says that in that group there needs to be a form of

Inter.:  support, that there needs to be a sort of coordinator of the working group.

When the chairperson forgets about his or her role as coordinator of the meeting and forgets to allocate the next turn, turn taking can become completely disrupted. Either people start talking at the same time and the interpreter is at a loss or (and this situation occurs especially when only one interpreter is present) people are speaking and signing at the same time and the signing is not being interpreted. Because the interpreter can interpret for only one person at a time, she cannot deal with overlap. Example 6 illustrates the first result described above (from the meeting with two interpreters).

Example 6.

A hearing parent (K.) and the cochairperson (J.) are talking at the same time, so the voice-to-sign interpreter, hearing both voices, chooses to interpret the cochairperson. When the cochairperson stops talking, two hearing parents respond to him at the same time. The voice-to-sign interpreter then signs to the Deaf participants that she cannot interpret, that they are all talking at the same time. The chairperson sees what the interpreter is signing, also understands her signing, intervenes, and indirectly asks the two hearing parents to stop talking by saying to the cochairperson, “Please, J., hold on, this cannot be interpreted that way, it’s also eh, very annoying in this room when people are all talking at the same time, sorry” (pause in which R. [Deaf parent] signs “Wait, I can’t follow” and F. ]Deaf parent] signs “I don’t understand it”).[19] The chairperson then says, “OK we . . . we were busy here, K. and J., I interrupted you . . .”, and K. continues talking.

This sequence shows that the voice-to-sign interpreter did not really know how to deal with the overlap. She first tries to interpret from one speaker (the cochairperson, J.), ignoring the other speaker (K.). Maybe she thought that, after having finished interpreting what the cochairperson said, she could interpret consecutively what K. had said. This approach would have corresponded with Roy’s second option: “The interpreter can momentarily ignore one speaker’s overlapping


18. The chairperson hadn’t seen that W. was signing.

19. The chairperson’s utterances were not interpreted into sign language. When the chair says “K.,” the voice-to-sign interpreter points at K. and resumes interpreting.