The eyes have it: Technologies of automobility in sign language

Elizabeth Keating, 1  and Gene Mirus, 2
  • 1 University of Texas at Austin
  • 2 Gallaudet University


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.

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The official journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, founded in 1969 as one of the first scholarly journals in the field, Semiotica features articles reporting results of research in all branches of semiotic studies, in-depth reviews of selected current literature in the field, and occasional guest editorials and reports. The journal also publishes occasional Special Issues devoted to topics of particular interest.