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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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Also striking in this meeting was that the process to allocate the next turn was totally different from the system of third-party designation of next speaker, as described by Larrue and Trognon (1993) when analyzing chaired spoken language meetings. In their analysis, allocation of the next turn was done nearly exclusively by the chairperson. In the two-hour, all-sign meeting that I analyzed, allocation by the chairperson happened only once, and even then, it occurred as part of an extremely confusing turn-allocation sequence (see example 1).

Example I.

J. is signing, and M. tries to get the next turn. This endeavor proves quite difficult, however, as can be seen in the transcript:[8]

J.:       (signing)[9] ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Chair: (waving hand)[10] ___________ yes I know (waves___points at M., waves)___________
M.:                                                    (raises hand)____________________________________
J.:       -----------------------------------------
Chair: (waves with other hand)_______________ exists I know      speak (points at M.)
M.:     no no add (raises finger)_________________________________________________
G.:     (points at chair, taps M.’s leg)[11] best look-at chair

M.:    (starts signing)

Example 1 shows that M. is trying to get the floor but that J. is not willing to yield. In the end, the chairperson has to intervene; however, only when G. also intervenes, telling M. that she had better look at the chairperson to see what he has to say, does the chairperson gets the next turn (after which he allocates the next turn to M.). G.’s intervention is noteworthy because, in this fragment, eye gaze is extremely important. J. keeps looking at G. (the previous speaker) and nearly refuses—although refuse may be too strong a word—to look at the chairperson, who wants to intervene but cannot. Only when G. (who sits next to the chairperson) notices that the chairperson wants to say something does he look away from J., which is the point when the chairperson gets the floor and subsequently allocates the next turn to M.

As has been said before, except for this one example, allocation of the next turn in the all-sign meeting was done by the current speaker, not by the chairperson. Of course, whether this behavior is typical only of Fevlado board meetings or whether this behavior is a general characteristic of all-sign meetings is not clear. More research is needed to corroborate this finding.

8. The customary musical-score format will be used in the transcriptions of multiparty conversations in this study: “The musical-score format of transcription is one way of representing the simultaneous and overlapping nature of interactive discourse. As described by Ehlich (1993), the musical-score format allows the sequence of events to unfold from left to right on a horizontal line, while the list of participants occurring from top to bottom allow each person’s utterance to be captured within a single moment of overlap” (44).

9. Because what J. is signing does not really matter in this example, I chose not to transcribe his utterances for the sake of clarity. However, the dotted line indicates that he is signing, with his eye gaze directed at G.

10. The line indicates that the waving is being continued.

11. He taps her leg because she was not looking at him but at J., who was still signing.