Using Space in Interpretations

From Interpretation Skills: English to ASL, Second Edition by Marty M. Taylor, PhD, pp. 149-152

Major Feature #5: Space  

Key Skill 5.7: Use as much space as the interpretation requires.

Space is an essential feature of ASL and should be used deliberately, carefully, and purposefully. The more space that is used, the more fluent your interpretation will be. As a result, the English to ASL interpretation is more easily understood. Use as much space as is needed in order to accurately represent ideas and topics in the communication event.

Left and right side of the body space. The space in front of the body is used in a variety of ways. The left side and right side of the space often are used to establish someone or something in space that will be referred to again. These spaces also are used to compare and contrast two different topics or differing aspects about a particular topic; for example, in interpreting a discussion about the usefulness of cars versus trucks, the interpreter will sign everything about cars on one side of her body where #CAR has been established in space, and everything about trucks on the opposite side of her body where #TRUCK has been established in space.

Forward and backward space. Space in front of the body can be used to indicate the relationship between two or more persons, places, or things, by positioning them either closer to or farther away from the body. One example of this use of space is the relationship between past, present, and future time. Present time can be established in space close to the body, with future time farther away from the body. Or, present time can be established in the space farther from the body, with earlier time established closer to the body. Consider the English message, “My mother died in 1988 and never met my son who was born in 1992. Luckily, she met my husband in 1986.” The information about the mother dying in 1988 can be signed a little forward of the body. Then YEAR NINETEEN-NINETY-TWO and the information about never meeting her son can be signed a little farther away from the body, and YEAR NINETEEN-EIGHTY-SIX, prior to her mother’s death, can be signed closer to the body than the two previous dates established in space.

Vertical space. Vertical space can be used to show relationships between things that are higher or lower, relative to one another. One example is talking about FIRST-PLACE, SECOND-PLACE, and THIRD-PLACE in a competition: the sign for FIRST-PLACE is produced higher in space than SECOND-PLACE, and SECOND-PLACE is produced higher than THIRD-PLACE. The opposite sequence occurs when talking about the floors of a three-story building: FLOOR ONE is indicated in a lower location in space than FLOOR TWO and FLOOR THREE. Likewise, establishing NORTH AMERICA and SOUTH AMERICA in space also would use corresponding vertical locations.

Multiple spaces. Multiple people, places, or things can be identified in space as long as each is established in a location that is distinct from the others. Establishing four individual people in space is easily achieved; however, establishing seven people in space would be challenging, and would not be typical in ASL, especially when these individuals are not present.

Non-dominant hand. Using the non-dominant hand heightens the eloquence of an interpretation, and is generally a hallmark of a fluent ASL user. When appropriate, both the dominant and non-dominant hands should be used throughout the interpretation. This technique utilizes space more than signing with only one hand does. It allows the interpreter to maximize the eloquence of the work by using the skill of simultaneity. Related to using space, the non-dominant hand can place a classifier SCL:V(bent) ‘sit’ to represent the location of a panelist talking while the dominant hand fingerspells the name of the person. If comparing Macs and PCs, the dominant hand can sign APPLE and the non-dominant hand can fingerspell P-C, then each hand can point to the location in space where the corresponding computer is established.

Consequently, when interpreting, you should structure space whenever possible. If space is not structured, then neutral space is used, with signs articulated in front of the body, one on top of the other, one after another, conveying little to no information about the relationships between one sign and another. Using limited or primarily neutral space should be avoided as it may affect meaning and fluency.