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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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who are native to languages conveyed in two different modes, there is the potential for participants to experience confusion regarding who is the original source of a given utterance, or even when another participant begins a turn.

In English monolingual interaction the interlocutors are generally able to hear when someone begins a turn at talk. On the basis of prior exposure to the speaker’s voice, the addressee or overhearer can generally identify the speaker (as a familiar person or someone unknown). Similarly, in ASL turns are initiated in part on the basis of eye gaze. When an addressee is not gazing in the direction of an interlocutor who is initiating a turn, the potential addressee is summoned until eye contact is made, allowing the turn to begin.

The interpreters convey this information by generating utterances. These utterances (e.g., a summons or source attribution) provide the information normally accessible in monolingual interaction. Thus, the interpreter-generated contributions can be seen to function in a manner that makes the interpreted interaction similar to monolingual interactive discourse. That is, each participant receives information similar to the information that would be accessible in a monolingual interview. It is important to reiterate that the interpreters did not always provide this information consistently. The issue here is that such contributions seem to represent a similarity to monolingual interaction. Clearly, a difference is that the interpreter has the power to omit information that is, by necessity, always present in monolingual discourse.[20] (Metzger 1999, 159–60)

Just as in Metzger’s data (1999), the interpreters in our data also did not always mention source attribution consistently, as shown in example 13.

Example 13.

The chairperson allocates the next turn to one of the hearing parents by saying her name. The interpreter, however, does not indicate that the chairperson had said something (i.e., the name of the next speaker), but immediately points at the hearing parent, thus giving the Deaf participants the impression that the hearing parent had self-selected.

Moreover, the interpreter also sometimes completely forgot to indicate who was talking, especially when the next speaker had self-selected (see example 14).

Example 14.

Chair: In your family, there actually was some experience, eh (H. [hearing parent] says “yes, so eh,” but is not interpreted. The chairperson then continues.)—but nevertheless, still, from the feeling more like we have seen in the first fragment and what actually corresponds with the (H. interjects “yes,” without interpretation.) hearing parent in this tape.

H. (Interpreting occurs with no source indication.) Yes, I want to say that in the case of my nephew it was not hereditary, that it actually was through an accident that he became deaf.

Here, the interpreter interprets what the chairperson says (but not the short back-channeling utterances by the hearing parent) and follows with the interpretation of the hearing parent without a pause or an indication of the fact that a different person is speaking. Presumably, the Deaf participants thought that the chairperson was still talking, although after a while, they noticed that the chairperson was not saying anything anymore, and they quickly glanced at where the hearing parents were sitting, probably to find out who was talking. This glancing around occurred, however, after the hearing parent had already talked for some time. When the interpreter did not attribute the source of the utterance, the Deaf participants obviously lost information.


20. Just because monolingual discourse consists of three parts—(1) the initiation of a turn, (2) who is the source of that turn, and (3) the content of the utterance—does not warrant calling the information the interpreters provide about the source of the utterance an “interpreter-generated utterance” because it is an essential part of the source language utterance. Nevertheless, I still agree with Metzger’s argument in general.