Researching signed language interpreting through a sociolinguistic approach


  • Cynthia Roy Gallaudet University
  • Melanie Metzger Gallaudet University


sociolinguistics, research methods, sign languge interpreting


Sociolinguistic processes are inherent in communication and thus the practice of interpretation. Interpreting constitutes intentional sociolinguistic analyses by interpreters, and reflects the tacit, sociolinguistic knowledge of interpreters engaged in the task. Sociolinguistic approaches and methodologies are well suited to interpreting studies, precisely because interpreting involves such a complex array of language and social behavior. In this sense, not only is the sociolinguistic context a relevant aspect of interpretation as a profession, but also the larger sociolinguistic context in which interpreters work. Each interpreted interaction undertaken by a professional interpreter is situated within communities that harbor their own unique multilingual, bilingual, and language contact phenomenon; within a setting that represents a snapshot of what may be a long history of language policies and planning; and in a social environment beset with language attitudes about one or both of the languages involved.

In this article, we will describe some major and minor sociolinguistic studies of interpretation with the underlying assumption that interpretation itself constitutes a sociolinguistic activity from the moment an assignment is accepted, including the products and processes inherent to the task, reflecting variously issues of bilingualism or multilingualism, language contact, variation, language policy and planning, language attitudes, and of course, discourse analysis.

In short, sociolinguistic concerns are such an integral part of interpretation that relevant sociolinguistic areas are being studied by a variety of researchers from diverse and interdisciplinary backgrounds. Just as the study of sociolinguistic issues as they pertain to interpreting have a great potential to impact interpreting practice and pedagogy, the study of interpreters and interpretation has much potential to contribute to our understanding of sociolinguistics and the sociolinguistics of deaf communities.


Author Biographies

  • Cynthia Roy, Gallaudet University

    Professor, Dept of Interpretation, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, USA

    Author . Interpreting as a Discourse Process

  • Melanie Metzger, Gallaudet University

    Professor, Dept of Interpretation, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, USA

    Author, Sign Language Interpreting: Deconstructing the Myth of Neutrality