A Cross-Linguistic Analysis of Fingerspelling Production by Sign Language Interpreters

Brenda Nicodemus, Laurie Swabey, Lorraine Leeson, Jemina Napier, Giulia Petitto, Marty Taylor

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12 Citations (Scopus)
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Little is known about the nature of fingerspelling during sign language interpretation. In this small-scale, exploratory study, we examined the fingerspelling of interpreters working in five different sign languages: American Sign Language (ASL), Australian Sign Language (Auslan), British Sign Language (BSL), Irish Sign Language (ISL), and Italian Sign Language (LIS). Sixteen interpreters were video-recorded as they rendered President Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural address in their country’s sign language. After completing their interpretations, the participants engaged in a retrospective interview about their work. The data were analyzed both quantitatively (for frequency and type of fingerspelling) and qualitatively (for factors influencing fingerspelling). Results indicate that the most fingerspelled items (n = 137) were produced in the ASL interpretations and the fewest (n = 18) were produced in the LIS interpretations; variation between the groups was found in lexicalized fingerspelling and the fingerspelling of place names. We suggest that the variation in fingerspelling both within and between groups may be explained by sociolinguistic factors, including interpreters’ language attitudes and perceptions of the deaf audience. This exploratory study provides a first step in investigating the fingerspelling of interpreters in a variety of sign languages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-171
Number of pages29
JournalSign Language Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2017


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