Perspectives about language direction from signed language interpreters in the United States and Switzerland

Brenda Nicodemus, Cassie Lang, Tobias Haug


In the interpreting profession, the term language direction (or directionality) is used to describe interpreting from one’s native, dominant language (L1) into a second, non-dominant language (L2), or vice versa. Language direction has long been of interest to interpreting scholars in regards to the quality of the output. Spoken language interpreter educators have argued that high quality interpretations can only be produced when working from an L2 into an L1 (Nicodemus & Emmorey, 2013; Seleskovitch, 1978). Further, spoken language interpreters have reported a preference for working from their L2 into their L1 (Donovan, 2004). In contrast, signed language interpreters, particularly novices, report the opposite preference for language direction, that is, the majority indicate a preference to work from their L1 into their L2 (Nicodemus & Emmorey, 2013). Researchers have speculated about the factors underlying this direction asymmetry found between signed and spoken language interpreters; however, these speculations were not data based. In this study, we interviewed 20 experienced signed language interpreters in the U.S. and Switzerland to collect perspectives regarding signed language interpreters’ preference for L1-to-L2 interpreting. The data point to four factors having an influence on language direction: (a) language modality, (b) self-monitoring, (c) deaf consumers, and (d) psychological states. This study sheds further light on social, linguistic, and psychological factors that impact language direction preferences among signed language interpreters.


Directionality; signed language interpreting; ASL-English; DSGS-German

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