Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

J. Albert Bickford


This study documents signed communication between a deaf woman and five hearing co-workers who have worked together for periods ranging from two and a half to twenty-three years.

The study has two primary foci:

(1) to describe the linguistic features observed during contact signing between deaf and hearing interlocutors, all fluent in English, who communicate in a manual, visual channel, and

(2) to identify the dynamics affecting the linguistic choices made by both the hearing and deaf signers during contact signing.

The primary data base for this study were videotaped recordings of conversational dyads consisting of the deaf woman and each of the five hearing co-workers recorded at the workplace. This linguistic data base was supplemented by information regarding their acquisition and use of sign language obtained from questionionnaires and from interviews and conversations with the six co-workers.

The principal findings of the study are the following:

(1) Contact signing exhibits lexical and syntactic features of both English and American Sign Language. Contact signing gives neither a full representation of standard spoken English, nor does it approximate native-like ASL as used in the Deaf community. Features unique to the contact situation such as code-mixing, code-switching and mouthing of English are frequently noted.

(2) The features of the deaf signer's language span a much broader spectrum than those of the hearing signers, and do not seem to be a function of the sign language fluency of the hearing interlocutor. Certain typical ASL features, labelled 'irreducible', are found in the signing of the deaf interlocutor with every hearing co-worker, regardless of that individual's own linguistic competency. These irreducible features suggest the influence of a modality constraint on linguistic code. They are also noteworthy because they are used very little by the hearing signers and appear to be acquired with difficulty by language learners.

3) Language acquisition phenomena such as interlanguage and foreigner talk constitute a significant share of the dynamics of the language contact situation.

4) For both the deaf and the hearing colleagues, effective communication at the workplace seems to have primacy over any other considerations of language usage. This is particularly striking and easily documented in the linguistic choices made by the Deaf colleague, who draws on a wide range of linguistic features according to the communicative needs of her hearing interlocutor.