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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 3.

The current speaker (hearing) stops talking. L. (one of the Deaf parents) raises his hand while looking at the chairperson, but the chairperson has not seen this signal. The voice-to-sign interpreter looks at the sign-to-voice interpreter, but she doesn’t say anything. L. raises his hand again, and the voice-to-sign interpreter points at the sign-to-voice interpreter, but again, she does not react. At this point, the chairperson points to and looks at the next speaker (hearing) who starts with “ehm.” The voice-to-sign interpreter then looks at the chairperson (who is sitting slightly behind her) to find out whether he has seen that L. had indicated that he wanted the floor, pointing at L. while looking at chairperson. The chairperson suddenly realizes his mistake, looks at L., and apologizes by saying “Oh, sorry” (which is interpreted by the voice-to-sign interpreter). The chairperson then signs wait toward the hearing parent (without saying anything, and it is not voiced by the interpreter[14]) and gives the floor to L. by pointing at him and nodding at him. L. then shifts his eye gaze from the chairperson to the voice-to-sign interpreter. The voice-to-sign interpreter, who has eye contact with L., points at the sign-to-voice interpreter and signs voice to signal that L. has to look at the other interpreter because she will interpret what he signs into spoken Dutch.

In this example, both the chairperson and the sign-to-voice interpreter had not noticed that L. had asked for the floor. Fortunately, the voice-to-sign interpreter had noticed, so through her intervention, the chairperson could correct this misallocation and give L. the next turn. When something similar happened with the hearing participants (i.e., that the chairperson had not seen their signaling to ask for the floor), they simply supported their signaling by using their voice, and the chairperson immediately reacted to the sound. The Deaf participants, in contrast, depend on the interpreters when the chairperson has missed their signaling.[15]

This whole process of signaling is even more difficult when only one interpreter is present. In example 4, taken from the meeting with only one interpreter, the chairperson is talking, and the interpreter is interpreting her statements into Flemish Sign Language.[16] At the same time, one of the Deaf participants has signaled, wanting to say something, but the chairperson hasn’t seen the signal, and the interpreter cannot interpret that signal while signing the chairperson’s statements at the same time.

Example 4.[17]

Chair:  … but I would also like with them, well, ask what it was like and how they
W. (Deaf teacher):                                                                     (waves his hand)
Inter.:                                 but     also     like     how     feel     how     they

Chair:  themselves see it in the training program. That is … very short. Now obviously
W.:      (drops his hand, raises his finger)               only                   (waves his hand)
Inter.:         look-at-it    in                  training program            very short

Chair:  evaluation, eh, a talk
W.:      only we-two
Inter.:   now Is that individually W. asks, only you and and us, oh yes, so then
W.:      interpreter not necessary me
Inter.:  I don’t need an interpreter.


14. It is very strange that the hearing chairperson would use a sign toward the hearing parents (some of them know a bit of Flemish Sign Language, but some of them don’t). Apparently, this signing was just a result of a bilingual person being confronted with both languages that he or she knows; one sometimes gets confused and addresses people in the wrong language. The sign-to-voice interpreter couldn’t have interpreted this signing because she was looking at the Deaf parents and was sitting with her back to the chairperson (who was supposed to talk, not sign).

15. None of the Deaf parents ever used their voices during the meeting.

16. These and subsequent conversations were, of course, in Dutch, but for the sake of clarity in the examples, I decided to translate them into English.

17. This sequence is about the fact that the chairperson, who is also the head of the school, wants an evaluation talk with each of the teachers at the end of the school year.