Research and Theory in Deaf-Blind Interpreting

by DB-LINK on May 1, 2010
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The articles in this section contain some of the results of research on tactile signed languages, linguistics, neurolinguistics, communication methods, the interpreting process, interpreter roles and the rights of deaf-blind people.


ADVERBIAL MORPHEMES IN TACTILE AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE, Collins, Steven Douglas. -- UMI Dissertation Services: 2004, 126. Discusses an aspect of linguistic use of adverbial morphemes as applied to a single case study of Tactile American Sign Language (TASL) as used by some American Deaf-Blind signers. TASL, a variation of the visual language recognized as American Sign Language (ASL), is not visually based. In ASL adverbial morphemes occur on the face and are non-manual signals that the Deaf-Blind signer does not see. This requires the ASL signer to make a slight modification, from these “invisible” non-manual morphemes to a tactile morpheme. Accrued data concentrates on six fundamental features of adverbial morphemes intrinsic to TASL: manner/degree, time, duration, purpose, frequency, and place/position/direction. A doctoral dissertation submitted to the Graduate College of Union Institute and University, May 2004.


ANATOMY OF AN INTERPRETATION, Jacobs, Rhonda. National Task Force on Deaf-Blind Interpreting and the CATIE and MARIE Centers. 2013, 1 hour, 31 minutes, 48 seconds. This webinar, geared toward interpreter educators and working interpreters, with or without experience working with people who are deaf-blind, will build upon the previous webinar, A Process Model for Deaf-Blind Interpreting, and examine an interpretation done by a Deaf interpreter working with a Deaf-Blind individual, looking at how various aspects of an interpretation are done, particularly the incorporation of visual information. For participants who did not participate in the previous webinar, there will be a brief review of the process model of interpreting previously presented.  This document is available on the web at:


AUTONOMY AND LINGUISTIC STATUS OF NONSPEECH LANGUAGE FORMS, Teodorsson, S.T. 1980, 24. Nonspeech language forms, above all sign language and writing, are discussed with respect to phylogenesis, ontogenesis, and acquisition as well as with respect to neurophysiological and psycholinguistic processes. Speech has not been demonstrated to be phylogenetically or ontogenetically prior to gestural expression. Especially the evidence of the linguistic ability of deaf and deaf-blind people demonstrates that the various expression forms (delological forms) of language are neurophysiologically and psycholinguistically parallel. A terminology is proposed for the linguistic description of these forms. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 1980 Mar;9(2):121-45


CORTICAL PROCESSING OF TACTILE LANGUAGE IN A POSTLINGUALLY DEAF-BLIND SUBJECT, Osaki, Yasuhiro, et al. 2004, 5. This scientific article reports the results of a small study comparing neural processes activated in tactile communication. The subjects of the study were one individual who was Deaf-Blind, and six individuals who had no hearing or vision loss. The authors of this study identify the specific areas of the brain activated through tactile communication, and report that these areas differ from the areas activated by auditory reception of language.


CYBERSIGN AND NEW PROXIMITIES: Impacts of New Communication Technologies on Space and Language, Keating, Elizabeth, Edwards; Terra; Mirus, Gene. 2008, 14. This article addresses ways that new digital communication technologies that transmit video images (e.g., via the Internet or videophone) are influencing social interaction and language use among the Deaf community in the U.S. It shows examples of ways signers are inventing or adapting communication behaviors as a result of technological mediation of their visual space. Although the article does not directly address these issues for individuals who are deaf-blind, it includes a couple of examples of how some adaptations are similar to adaptations used by deaf-blind people. JOURNAL OF PRAGMATICS, vol. 40, pp. 1067-1081.


DEAF-BLIND INTERPRETING: Interpreters' Use of Negation in Tactile American Sign Language, Frankel, Mindy A. 2002, 11. This article describes a study performed to document prevalent signs used during the interpreting process, specifically relating to negation in tactile sign language. The project focused on American Sign Language (ASL) to tactile ASL only. The author intended to document specific signs that pertain to the way deaf interpreters express negation in deaf-blind interpreting. The results of this research are intended to help achieve greater understanding of what seasoned interpreters are doing in the deaf-blind field today. SIGN LANGUAGE STUDIES, vol. 2, #2, Winter 2002, pp. 169-180.


DEICTIC POINTS IN THE VISUAL-GESTURAL AND TACTILE-GESTURAL MODALITIES, Quinto-Pozos, David. -- Cambridge University Press: 2002, 25. This book chapter begins by reviewing the similarities and differences in signed language between blind and sighted signers and then describes a study that examined the use of deictic points in narratives produced by two deaf-blind adults as compared to their use in two deaf-sighted adults. Nonmanual signals (e.g., eyebrow shifts, head and torso movement, and eye gaze) are integral to sign language as it is used by deaf-sighted signers. This study found that sign language production by deaf-blind individuals differs from that of sighted deaf individuals in that deaf-blind signers do not use nonmanual signs extensively. Additionally, sighted-deaf signers utilize deictic points for referential purposes while deaf-blind signers use other strategies to accomplish the same task. The ability to perceive eye gaze appears to be a crucial component in the realization of deictic points for referential purposes. Modality and Structure in Signed and Spoken Languages. Richard P. Meier, Kearsy Cormier, & David Quinto-Pozos (Eds.), pp. 442-467


DISCOURSE GENRE AND LINGUISTIC MODE: INTERPRETER INFLUENCES IN VISUAL AND TACTILE INTERPRETED INTERACTION, Metzger, Melanie; Fleetwood, Earl; Collins, Steven D. 2004, 18. In this article, the authors investigate visual and tactile ASL-English interpreters' influences on interactive discourse through an interactional sociolinguistic analysis of videotaped, interpreted interactions. They examine the participation framework of each of the interactions to determine whether the interpreters' utterances influence the interaction. For example, how do interpreters' code choices align them with the Deaf-sighted, Deaf-Blind, or hearing participants? How do interpreters create footings within their renditions and self-generated nonrenditions? Based on a growing body of research on tactile signed languages and on signed language interpretation of dyadic interaction such as student-teacher meetings, medical interviews, and multiparty genres such as classroom discourse, they examine ways in which discourse genre and linguistic mode contribute to those interpreter-generated influences. Publisher's web site: Sign Language Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, Winter 2004, pp. 118-136.


FASTEN SEATBELTS: A Guided Tour of the Research on Deafblind Communication in 45 Minutes, Mortensen, Ole E. 1999, 15. A presentation giving an overview of the research that has taken place regarding communication and the deafblind population. Reviews communication methods such as ASL, tactile ASL, fingerspelling, computer recognition, Tadoma, and communication speed and accuracy of each. This document is available on the web at: Plenary presentation at the International Symposium on Development and Innovations in Interpreting for Deafblind People, Netherlands, June 1999.


FROM COMPENSATION TO INTEGRATION: EFFECTS OF THE PRO-TACTILE MOVEMENT ON THE SUBLEXICAL STRUCTURE OF TACTILE AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE, Edwards, Terra. 2014, 19. This article examines a divergence in the sublexical structure of Visual American Sign Language (VASL) and Tactile American Sign Language (TASL). The author's claim is that TASL is a language, not just a relay for VASL. In order to make that case, she shows how changes in the structure of interaction, driven by the aims of the “pro-tactile” social movement, contributed to a redistribution of complexity across grammatical sub-systems. She argues that these changes constitute a departure from the structure of VASL and the emergence of a new, tactile language. In doing so, she apprehends language emergence not as a “liberation” from context, but as a process of contextual integration.  JOURNAL OF PRAGMATICS, online June 2014


HAPTICES AND HAPTEMES: A Case Study of Developmental Process in Social-Haptic Communication of Acquired Deafblind People [Dissertation], Lahtinen, Riitta M. -- A1 Management: 2008, 196. This dissertation describes a qualitative study of communication between a deaf-blind individual and his hearing-sighted partner and how their communication experiences changed as his hearing and vision deteriorated. It focuses on social-haptic communication, a form of touch communication that augments verbal or signed language. Two different elements of social-haptic communication are classified. (1) Haptices—messages shared by touch on the body. These messages make it possible to share such things as emotional experiences, social atmospheres, hobbies, and games. (2) Haptemes—the small components of touch messages that make up each haptice. A hapteme is received through a body channel, in which the whole body is transmitting touch information.


INTERVIEW WITH TERRA EDWARDS, Salas, Daniel. 2011, November 21. THE WENNER-GREN BLOG, Published online at: Terra Edwards discusses what led her to her dissertation research, “Language, Embodiment, and Sociality in a Tactile Life-world: Communication Practices in Everyday Life among Deaf-Blind People in Seattle, Washington,” the relationships between anthropology, communications and the Deaf-Blind community, and some of the findings of her research that she found surprising.


LANGUAGE EMERGENCE IN THE SEATTLE DEAFBLIND COMMUNITY, Edwards, Terra. -- University of California: 2014, 268.This dissertation examines the social and interactional foundations of a grammatical divergence between Tactile American Sign Language (TASL) and Visual American Sign Language VASL). The author's central claim is that TASL is breaking away from the scaffolding of VASL and is emerging as a distinct, linguistic system. In order to make that case, she examines the effects of a recent social movement, known as the Pro-Tactile movement, on communication practices in the Seattle DeafBlind community, and shows how those practices are giving rise to new grammatical subsystems in TASL.  This document is available on the web at: 


MISUNDERSTANDING AND REPAIR IN TACTILE AUSLAN, Willoughby, L., Manns, H., Iwasaki, S, Bartlett, M. 2014. This paper reports the results of a study of tactile Auslan conversations, paying particular attention to how experienced tactile signers resolve misunderstandings, often caused by the absence of non-manual signals in tactile sign. The authors provide examples of conversations analyzed to highlight important features of their findings. Sign Language Studies, vol. 14, #4 Summer 2014 


PROCEEDINGS OF AN INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON DEVELOPMENTS AND INNOVATIONS IN INTERPRETING FOR DEAFBLIND PEOPLE, Peckford, Bob (Ed.) 1999, 83. The third annual conference aimed at identifying what was happening in interpreting for deafblind people in Europe and to share ideas, information and materials on this subject. Three key issues were examined in a comparative study during the conference: the role and function of the interpreters, models of interpreter training, and the rights of deafblind people to interpreters. Three overview papers are presented addressing the interim results from that study in the areas listed above. Additional technical papers review recent research, developments and models of training are included in the proceedings as well. Held at Leeuwenhorst, The Netherlands, June 1999


A PROCESS MODEL FOR DEAF-BLIND INTERPRETING, Jacobs, Rhonda. -- Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf: 2005, 23. This paper addresses the need for a theoretical model of interpreting for people who are both deaf and blind, lays out a version of a process model based on the works of Colonomos, Cokely and Seleskovitch, and then expands this model, viewing it through the lens of Deaf-Blind interpreting. A checklist is included as an appendix for use in interpreter training. Journal of Interpretation


A PROCESS MODEL FOR DEAF-BLIND INTERPRETING, Jacobs, Rhonda. National Task Force on Deaf-Blind Interpreting and the CATIE and MARIE Centers. 2013, 1 hour, 29 minutes and 34 seconds. This webinar, geared toward interpreter educators and working interpreters, with or without experience working with people who are deaf-blind, will present A Process Model for Deaf-Blind Interpreting as published in the 2005 Journal of Interpretation, updated to include work published since 2005. Participants examine a process model of interpreting as it relates to deaf-blind interpreting, considering such elements as visual information, message analysis, contextual analysis, linguistic modifications and back-channeling.  This document is available on the web at:


SENSING THE RHYTHMS OF EVERYDAY LIFE: Temporal Integration and Tactile Translation in the Seattle Deaf-Blind Community, Edwards, Terra. 2012, 42. This article is concerned with how social actors establish relations between language, the body, and the physical and social environment. The empirical focus is a series of interactions between Deaf-Blind people and tactile signed language interpreters in Seattle, Washington. Many members of the Seattle Deaf-Blind community were born deaf and, due to a genetic condition, lose their vision slowly over the course of many years. Drawing on recent work in language and practice theory, the author argues that these relations are established by Deaf-Blind people through processes of INTEGRATION whereby continuity between linguistic, embodied, and social elements of a fading visual order are made continuous with corresponding elements in an emerging tactile order. In doing so, she contributes to current attempts in linguistic anthropology to model the means by which embodied, linguistic, and social phenomena crystallize in relational patterns to yield worlds that take on the appearance of concreteness and naturalness.  LANGUAGE IN SOCIETY, vol. 41, #1, 2012, pp. 29-71


SIGNED CONVERSATIONS OF DEAF-BLIND PEOPLE, Mesch, Johanna, PhD. -- Canadian Deafblind and Rubella Association: 2003, 5. This is the text of a workshop presentation given at the 13th DbI World Conference on Deaf-Blindness. The study focuses on turn taking and questions in conversations among deaf-blind people using tactile sign language. 13th DbI World Conference on Deafblindness Conference Proceedings, August 5-10, 2003, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada


SIGNING FOR VIEWING: Some Relations Between the Production and Comprehension of Sign Language, Emmorey, Karen. -- Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers: 2005, 293-309.This book chapter explores how visual perception and manual production interact at the level of phonology in sign language. Speculations regarding the development of visual-motor integration for sign language, implications of the direct perception of the sign articulators, and some unique problems that sign language raises for the perceptual loop hypothesis of language monitoring are presented. Includes a discussion of visual monitoring of sign output for signers with Usher syndrome.  Anne Cutler (Ed.). Twenty-First Century Psycholinguistics: Four Cornerstones


THE SOCIOLINGUISTICS OF SIGN LANGUAGE, Lucas, Ceil; Bayley, Robert; Kelly, Arlene Blumenthal. -- Blackwell Publishing: 2005. This book chapter on sociolinguistic variation in American Sign Language (ASL) contains a 2-page section on variations in tactile ASL (primarily a summary of a study by Collins and Petronio that was published in "Pinky Extension and eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities," Gallaudet University Press, 1998). Martin J. Ball. Clinical Sociolinguistics.


STUDY OF THE TACTUAL AND VISUAL RECEPTION OF FINGERSPELLING, Reed, Charlotte M.; Delhorne, Lorraine A.; Durlach, Nathaniel I.; Fischer, Susan D. 1990, 11. The purpose of the study reported here was to examine the ability of experienced deaf-blind subjects to receive fingerspelled materials, including sentences and connected text, through the tactual sense. A parallel study of the reception of fingerspelling through the visual sense was also conducted using sighted deaf subjects. The study concluded that tactual spelling is sent and received with excellent accuracy at 2-6 letters per second. Visual reception, on the other hand, with the use of variable speed videotape playback, could be shown to be much faster than the sender can form the letters. JOURNAL OF SPEECH AND HEARING RESEARCH, vol. 33, no. 4, December 1990, pp. 786-797.


STUDY OF THE TACTUAL RECEPTION OF SIGN LANGUAGE, Reed, Charlotte M.; Delhorne, Lorraine A.; Durlach, Nathaniel I.; Fischer, Susan D. 1995, 12. In the study reported here, 10 experienced deaf-blind users of either American Sign Language or Pidgin Sign English participated in experiments to determine their ability to receive signed materials including isolated signs and sentences. Experimental results are discussed in terms of differences in performance for isolated signs and sentences, differences in error patterns for the ASL and PSE groups, and communication rates relative to visual reception of sign language and other natural methods of tactual communication. JOURNAL OF SPEECH AND HEARING RESEARCH, vol. 38, April 1995, pp. 477-489.


TACTILE SIGN LANGUAGE: Turn Taking and Questions In Signed Conversations of Deaf-Blind People
Mesch, Johanna. 1998. International Studies on Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf, Vol. 38. This dissertation is primarily about turn-taking and questions as they are carried out in tactile conversation. Beginning with the concept of deaf-blind people and different methods of communication, it then presents the material used in the authors’ analysis and then an overview of the concept of "conversation" which consists of sequences, turns, adjacency pairs and feedback. It then looks more specifically at form and function regarding questions with an overview of interrogative clauses in sign language and shows what partial signals are used in questions. The author also analyzes yes/no questions, alternative questions and wh-questions. Finally the book examines support questions and how conversational participants support one another by requesting feedback and clarification. This dissertation was originally written in Swedish and then translated into English. 250 pages. Publisher's web site:

TACTILE SWEDISH SIGN LANGUAGE: Turn Taking in Signed Conversations of People Who Are Deaf and Blind, Mesch, Johanna. 2000, In Melanie Metzger (Ed.), Bilingualism and Identity in Deaf Communities (pp.187-203). Gallaudet University Press.. This chapter describes how deaf-blind people regulate turn-taking in conversations when using tactile sign language. Describes the two different conversation positions, monologue and dialogue, used by deaf-blind signers. Provides line drawings to illustrate how the different positions affect the conversation, and the manual sign structure. Describes turn zones, back-channeling and support turns, all of which direct the flow of the conversation.


THE USE OF VISUAL FEEDBACK DURING SIGNING: Evidence from Signers with Impaired Vision, Emmorey, Karen; Korpics, Franco; Petronio, Karen. 2009. JOURNAL OF DEAF STUDIES AND DEAF EDUCATION, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 99-104.

The role of visual feedback during the production of American Sign Language was investigated by comparing the size of signing space during conversations and narrative monologues for normally sighted signers, signers with tunnel vision due to Usher syndrome, and functionally blind signers. The interlocutor for all groups was a normally sighted deaf person. Signers with tunnel vision produced a greater proportion of signs near the face than blind and normally sighted signers, who did not differ from each other. Both groups of visually impaired signers produced signs within a smaller signing space for conversations than for monologues. Signers with tunnel vision may align their signing space with that of their interlocutor. In contrast, blind signers may enhance proprioceptive feedback by producing signs within an enlarged signing space for monologues, which do not require switching between tactile and visual signing. The authors hypothesize that signers use visual feedback to phonetically calibrate the dimensions of signing space, rather than to monitor language output.


WHAT HAPPENS IN TACTILE ASL? Collins, Steven; Petronio, Karen. Gallaudet University Press: 1998, pp. 18-37. This study focused on tactile ASL as it was used by fluent Deaf-Blind ASL users when they communicated tactilely with other fluent Deaf-Blind ASL users. Selected linguistic features from four subfields of linguistics (phonology, morphology, syntax and discourse) were studied. Comparing visual ASL with tactile ASL provided a unique opportunity to observe the variation and change that occurred when a community of fluent Deaf-Blind ASL signers used a visual language in a tactile mode. Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities. Lucas, Ceil (Ed.)


YES, #NO, VISIBILITY, AND VARIATION IN ASL AND TACTILE ASL, Petronio, Karen; Dively, Valerie. 2006. When using tactile ASL, the deaf-blind receiver receives language by placing a hand on top of the signer's hand. This article describes a study that compared the functions and frequency of the signs YES and NO in tactile ASL and visual ASL. It found that YES and/or NO were used for twelve functions in both. There was, however, some variation. With regard to frequency, the two signs occurred far more often in tactile ASL. Unexpectedly, significant variation was also found within visual ASL, depending on the number of interviewees in a session. YES and NO were used more frequently with two or more interviewees and less often when only one interviewee was present. The data also reveal variation in tactile ASL that correlates with role and gender, as well as the age at which a participant started using tactile ASL. SIGN LANGUAGE STUDIES, vol. 7, #1, Fall 2006, pp. 57-98.

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