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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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Example 16.

Chair (interpreted but not shown in transcription): … the question is whether we can find a joint date so people who are interested can meet with the architect. It has to be before 15 June. (At this point, three deaf teachers look away from the interpreter; G. and H. start talking to each other, and W. looks in his diary.)

Chair: So speed is important. It can be an evening, it can be a Saturday, it can be during the day, it can be at lunchtime. No problem, the architect will adjust.” (A long break occurs in which everything is interpreted, but only G. looks at the interpreter.)

Chair: Preferably an evening?

H.:        :I full, full, full, full. (long pause)
Interpreter: My diary is full.
H.:           find during-the-day something I evening must evening
Interpreter:           Does it have to be in the evening? I can find something during the day, but evenings are difficult.
(H. had missed out on part of the information because she hadn’t looked at the interpreter, and the chairperson hadn’t checked to see that she was watching the interpreter.)

Example 17.

(G. and W. [both Deaf teachers] are not looking at the interpreter.)
Chair: Thursday 29 July. (pause) Who can be present at the info?

A. (hearing teacher): I am free 29 July and 24 August, but between 27 August and 2 September I am not free. (G. looks up.) So I can’t then. (G. looks down again.)

B. (hearing teacher): But maybe first ehm info how are we gonna do that, how could we do it best. (G. looks up, but W. keeps looking down for 1.5 minutes.)

(Nobody checked whether the Deaf participants were looking at the interpreter.)

A similar phenomenon can be seen when papers are distributed during a meeting. When papers were distributed in the all-sign meeting, some time was given for people to look at them. Afterwards, the person who distributed the papers explained what was written down, showed the relevant passage to the whole group so everybody knew the passage about which he or she was talking, and then discussed it. When papers were distributed in the mixed meetings, no time was given to look at them. The hearing participants listened to the explanations and looked at the papers at the same time. However, the Deaf participants had to choose between looking at the paper or looking at the interpreter. In one instance during the meeting with one interpreter, one of the Deaf participants read some papers that had just been distributed during the entire explanation by the chairperson, which lasted for several minutes. Nobody warned the Deaf person that he had to look at the interpreter. During this same situation, another Deaf participant actually held up the paper so she could try to look at the paper and at the interpreter at the same time. Regardless, the Deaf participants were not given sufficient time to first read the papers and then look at the explanations. Moreover, the relevant passages were not shown to the Deaf participants.

The question is whether the interpreter should have pointed out that one or more of the Deaf participants were not looking at her. In the all-sign meeting, the Deaf participants—usually the signer who has the floor—make sure that everybody is looking at whoever is signing. If the interpreter really wants to be a manager of “the intercultural event of interpreting” (Roy 1993, 341), maybe she is the one who should resolve this problem because it is caused by obvious cultural differences. Roy (1989, 1993) and Metzger (1999) have already established and this chapter has corroborated that interpreters are no neutral, passive conduits and that they exert influence on the interaction, especially on the turn-taking process. Still, many interpreters try to maintain a position that is as neutral as possible and are very reluctant to consciously interrupt the interaction to make sure that all the Deaf participants are watching the signed interpretation. However, when the interpreter does not intervene, Deaf people end up not participating at mixed meetings.

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