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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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Turn-Taking Mechanisms

Turn-Taking Mechanisms in Spoken Language Conversations

According to Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson (1974), a current speaker can select a coparticipant to speak next by producing a turn that includes a sequence-initiating action (a first pair-part) and an addressing device. However, a first pair-part alone does not allocate the next turn to some particular participant. Selecting a next speaker is usually accomplished in one of the following ways (Lerner 1993):

By affiliating a name or other identifying term to a sequence-initiating action

By using gaze direction as an addressing device (i.e., by producing a sequence initiating action and at the same time gazing at a single recipient)

By means of embedded addressing accompanied by gaze direction (i.e., referring to a person with the recipient proterm “you”—thus indicating that a single recipient is being addressed without indicating who is being referred to—while using accompanying gaze direction to make clear who is being addressed)

By means of embedded addressing without gaze (i.e., referring to the person with the recipient proterm (you) when that person is clearly identified from the specifics of the situation and of the participants’ identities or from the particularities of content and context)

Note that embedded addressing can be unexpressed or tacit, especially in sequence-subsequent addressing.

The Organization of Turn-Taking in Chaired Spoken Language Meetings

Chaired spoken language meetings, however, generally follow a different pattern. The chairperson has close control of the organization of turn-taking and the allocation of the next turn. Thus, in this pattern, we find “a system of third party designation of next speaker” (Larrue and Trognon 1993, 181), which can be described as follows:

Firstly, when the current speaker indicates the end of his turn, the chairperson is the one who intervenes by calling upon the next speaker. Secondly, the order of the speakers is dictated by the requests to speak expressed as the meeting progresses. Someone who wishes to speak raises his hand. The chairperson writes the requester’s name on the list. He will grant that speaker a turn when all preceding individuals on the list have spoken. (181)

Turn-Taking Mechanisms in Signed Conversations

One of the questions this study addresses is whether the organization of turn-taking in spoken language conversations can be applied equally to the organization of turn-taking in signed language conversations. Baker (1977) looked at a small corpus of conversations between two Deaf signers and concentrated on initiation, continuation, and shift regulators, using a taxonomy devised by Wiener and Devoe (1974).[6] In her study, Baker (1977) distinguished between initiation regulators by the signer and initiation regulators by the addressee. A signer, for instance, can initiate a turn by raising and extending the hand or hands out of rest position, which can then be followed by optional indexing, touching, or waving of a hand in front of the addressee to get his or her attention. When beginning a statement, a signer usually does not look at the addressee (-GAZE), but when asking a question, he or she usually does (+GAZE). The addressee can signal that the signer may initiate a turn by +GAZE or by maintaining his or her own inactivity, that is, by not signing. With respect to shift regulators, again, a distinction can be made between the signer signaling turn yielding and the addressee signaling turn claiming. The most important turn-yielding signal by the signer is a return to +GAZE that is optionally accompanied by a


6. Continuation regulators will not be discussed here because they are not relevant for this chapter.