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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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Self-selection by a signer when a hearing person was speaking proved extremely difficult. Self-selection hardly ever occurred across a Deaf-hearing scenario, and if it did, it was problematic. In the meeting with only one interpreter, this kind of self-selection always resulted in loss or overlap, as was shown in examples 7–10. In the meeting with two interpreters, self-selection proved difficult because the interpreters always lagged behind, as can be seen in example 15.[21]

Example 15.

Chair: I can hear from your story, R., that it is too simple to think that all Deaf
V–S Inter.:         (points at chair)              hear r. hear            too

Chair:   people ehm would like to have deaf children, right, or don’t have any problem
V–S Inter.:                 cannot say all deaf people like deaf children
R.:                                                                                                                                    not-not-

Chair:   with that and that all hearing people would have problems with it, right, with the fact that
V–S Inter.:                no problem deaf children other-side all hearing
R.:               not-not-no-no-no not-not-not-not

Chair:   their children are deaf, right?
V–S Inter.:             people problem deaf children not two-sides
R.:                                                                                                   not-not

Chair:   I also hear in your story
V–S Inter.:                               hear
S–V Inter.:                                that is not the case, no, no, that is not the case

Chair:   I also hear in your story
V–S Inter.:                      I hear your story

The chairperson is talking, and the voice-to-sign interpreter interprets what he says into Flemish Sign Language. R. immediately self-selects by signing not-not-not- and so forth. R.’s utterances are not immediately interpreted by the sign-to-voice interpreter but are voiced a bit later. She seems to have waited for a while, probably because she did not want to interrupt the chairperson. When the chairperson starts with a second line of thought (“I also hear in your story”), she decides to go ahead and interrupt him, so her voice overlaps with the chairperson’s and he has to repair. In an interpreted conversation between a hearing person and a Deaf person, the “interpretational lag” makes it very difficult for the interpreter to know when he or she can interrupt the speaker when the signer has self-selected (who also lags behind because he or she has to wait for the voice-to-sign interpretation).

Making Sure Everybody Participates

In all-sign meetings, a signer usually checks whether the other participants are looking at him or her. When a signer sees that a person is not looking—because she or he is reading something, for instance—the signer will either tap the table or ask the neighbor to warn the person that conversation has started again. In the mixed meetings, this behavior hardly ever occurred. In fact, quite frequently, a hearing person started talking and the interpreter started interpreting, but one or more Deaf people were not looking at the interpreter (see examples 16 and 17 from the meeting with one interpreter).


21. Trying to avoid lag time is not a successful strategy. In examining American Sign Language-English interpreters, Cokely (1992) clearly showed that shorter lag times result in a higher number of miscues and, thus, in a lower quality of output.