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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Volume 2012, Issue 191


The eyes have it: Technologies of automobility in sign language

Professor Elizabeth Keating, / Associate Professor Gene Mirus,
Published Online: 2012-09-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2012-0064


Cars present an unusual environment for human interaction and communication. For deaf people using sign language, a visual language, the car is far from ideal for establishing and maintaining conversation. This is due to the visual pre-occupation of the driver with watching the road, manual preoccupation with maneuvering the car, and the layout of seats for passengers. This article describes and analyzes particular conversational interactions of signers to show how deaf signers innovatively and creatively manage to adapt their signing in the car for effective signed interaction. Signers manipulate particular aspects of the car environment, including mirrors and seats, they use the body in particular ways to accommodate to visual perception boundaries, and they shift distribution of meaning to both manual signs and to aspects of the immediate physical environment. They also distribute the work of attending to actions both within and outside the vehicle. Signers thus both adapt language to the context and adapt the context to language, showing important ways that technologies and mobility impact language practices.

Keywords: sign language; mobility; context; deaf; visual communication; technology

About the article

Professor Elizabeth Keating,

Elizabeth Keating (b. 1957) is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin 〈ekeating@mail.utexas.edu〉. Her research interests include language and culture, and language and technology. Her publications include Power sharing: Language, rank, gender, and social space in Pohnpei, Micronesia (1998); “Habits and innovations: Designing language for new, technologically mediated sociality” (2006); “Participation cues: Coordinating activity and collaboration in complex online gaming worlds” (with C. Sunakawa, 2010); and “Sensory impairment” (with R. Neill Hadder, 2010).

Associate Professor Gene Mirus,

Gene Mirus (b. 1969) is an assistant professor at Gallaudet University 〈gene.mirus@gallaudet.edu〉. His research interests include signed language corpus, L1/L2 sign language acquisition, and sign language poetics. His publications include “Examining interactions across language modalities: Deaf children and hearing peers at school” (with E. Keating, 2003); “New technologies and minority language communities: The deaf community, visual virtual language and computer-mediated communication” (with E. Keating, 2003); “Signing in the car: Some issues in language and context” (with E. Keating, 2004); and “Cybersign: Impacts of new communication technologies on space and language” (with E. Keating & T. Edwards, 2008).

Published Online: 2012-09-06

Published in Print: 2012-08-21

Citation Information: , Volume 2012, Issue 191, Pages 287–308, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2012-0064.

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©[2012] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston.Get Permission

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