Cohesion in English to ASL simultaneous interpreting

Campbell McDermid


A study was done with 12 American Sign Language - English interpreters to examine their use of cohesive devices while working simultaneously from ASL into English. Concern has been raised in the literature on spoken language interpreters that novice practitioners create target text that lack cohesion and instead sound like a disconnected list of facts (Sunnari, 1995). Halliday and Hasan's (1976) theoretical model of cohesion was used as a framework for this study. Only two aspects of cohesion were addressed, the first being conjunctive devices as defined by Fraser (1999), including conjunctions, adverbs or adverbial phrases and prepositional phrases. The second was reference. Specifically, only the conjunctive devices that created cohesion across sentences in the target texts were examined. In addition, only endophoric reference was explored as described by Halliday and Hasan (1976,), in that the antecedent for the reference was evident in the language and not recovered from the “context of situation” (p. 32).

The participants included seven novice interpreters, who had seven or fewer years of practice with ASL and who were recent graduates of an interpretation program. In addition, five experts took part who had more than two decades of experience as interpreters and who were all nationally certified in Canada. Three Deaf interpreter educators rated each interpreter’s fluency in ASL, and found the experts created more fluent texts than the novices. No significant difference was found in interpreters’ target texts in terms of the number of signs created (p = 0.57), the number of unique signs used (p= .074), their signs per minute (p=0.57), or in their use of cohesive endophoric reference (p=0.46). However, there was a significant difference in the interpreters' use of conjunctions or transition words (**p=0.007), indicating that the experts made more frequent use of these devices. For interpreter educators and beginning professionals, this might suggest the need for targeted practice of conjunctive devices and transition markers to enhance perceived fluency and to increase target text cohesion.

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