In the four years since my master’s thesis was published by Western Oregon University on Digital Commons, it has been downloaded 2,036 times. Oddly, though, I have not heard from readers or seen it cited. What strange times we live in! If you read my thesis, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment to let me know how you used it in your research and/or practice. Thanks!
It’s great to see how people other than “interpreters” are implementing the “interpretation” of vague language for practical applications! Panos Alexopoulos, in his presentation Vagueness in Semantic Information Management, discusses how Internet engineers can design databases with search capabilities that can “interpret” what consumers mean when they say they are looking for, say, a “Big, modern restaurant.” (How many square feet is big? What year range or architectural and interior design qualifies as modern?) He discusses the challenge of developing algorithms that can translate vague search terms into specific results. Very interesting!
“What about slang words and acronyms, aren’t they vague language?” Someone asked me this recently, and I wanted to say no right away, but I had to think about why. After thinking on it, I say no, slang words and acronyms are not vague language because they do not have inherently vague meanings; if anything, they are very specific. Vague words have inherently vague meanings– vague language is language you know, but can never be sure of. Take the word noonish– we know it means sometime around noon; we just don’t know exactly when. We also don’t know how late someone might be when they say they’ll meet you at noonish: 12:05? 12:10? What about quarter past– is that noonish anymore, or just plain late? I don’t think a dictionary, slang or otherwise, will ever tie noonish down to the hands of a clock. When people talk with each other in front of you in a language you don’t understand, they’re being cryptic, not vague. Or maybe you’re just being paranoid.
This Thursday evening, July 18th, from 6–9pm UTC -7, I will be presenting the first workshop of my three-part series on interpreting vague language. This training is appropriate for interpreters of all languages, and is presented in English. The second and third parts, held on Friday, July 19th from 9am-noon and 1–4pm respectively (UTC -7) are also presented in English, and are of interest to anyone who interprets into or out of English and wants to learn about how vagueness is expressed in American Sign Language. All three of these workshops — beginning, intermediate, and advanced — present the findings of my review of vague language literature and the study of vague language I conducted on an American Sign Language corpus. These workshops take my thesis on vague language off the page and into an interactive, hands-on learning environment. You may take any or all of these workshops online via Adobe Connect and get CEUs from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Contact Amerigo Berdeski by email, email@example.com, or call +1-623-570-3394 to register. For more details on each workshop, download these fliers in PDF:
I’m teaching a new vague language training series comprising three three-hour workshops on an evening and the following morning and afternoon. My vague language workshops have been delivered since 2009 in various formats from three to six hours long. Two pieces of feedback I have received more than once are a) that the workshop should span two days and b) that the workshop should allow for more hands-on experience. Next Thursday, July 18, I will teach A Study of Vague Language – Beginning from 6–9pm, and the following day, Friday, July 19, I will teach A Study of Vague Language – Intermediate from 9am–noon and A Study of Vague Language – Advanced from 1–4pm. I designed the series in three parts so that each segment allows more time to explore the concepts involved in interpreting and translating vague language. In addition, since some people by now have attended one of my vague language workshops or read what I have written about vague language, if those people want to skip the beginning workshop, they are free to do so. Personally, I think we will explore the basic concepts of vagueness in life and in language more deeply than ever, so I think all three workshops together make for the best learning experience.
UPDATE: You may take these workshops online using Adobe Connect. Email Amerigo.Berdeski@asdb.az.gov to register.
Vague language curriculum divided into beginning, intermediate, and advanced
Here are the descriptions and learning objectives of the three workshops. I hope this helps potential workshop schedulers and participants understand what the workshops are about, and I hope this helps interpreter trainers understand how I teach interpreting vague language.
A Study of Vague Language – Beginning
Participants will explore the phenomenon of vagueness and the expression of vagueness in language, study vague language (VL) theory, analyze the communicative purposes and social meanings of VL, and consider the variables involved in interpreting and translating VL.
- Define vagueness and give examples of vagueness in natural phenomena and social life.
- Define vague language (VL).
- Name at least five functions, or communicative purposes, of VL.
- Describe where interpreters and translators confront VL and how they tackle it.
A Study of Vague Language – Intermediate
Participants will explore the forms of vague language (VL) in English and ASL; participants will categorize vague forms into parts of speech and learn how each part of speech fulfills its functions in language; participants will develop a vocabulary of VL in ASL and English.
- List the parts of speech (POS) vague terms take.
- Provide various vague signs for given parts of speech (e.g., various vague nouns).
- Provide various vague words for given parts of speech (e.g., various vague nouns).
- Demonstrate the use of several vague gestures and vocalizations.
A Study of Vague Language – Advanced
Participants will search written, spoken, and signed texts for vague language (VL); participants will devise and perform translations for vague texts; participants will practice interpreting vague texts both consecutively and simultaneously; participants will analyze vague language in consumer interactions and make ethical decisions using critical thinking, including the NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct and Demand-Control Schema.
- List tenets and exemplary behaviors from the NAD-RID CPC that pertain to interpreting vague language (VL).
- Name five ways an interpreter might interpret VL.
- Develop ethical and linguistic strategies for handling VL.
- Create an action plan for further study of VL and practice of interpreting VL.
Digital Commons tells me my thesis on vague language has been downloaded 250 times as of today. That’s a far cry from the handful of people who read a thesis that’s bound and shelved!
You can read the abstract and get the PDF at no cost: Keeping it vague: A study of vague language in an American Sign Language corpus and implications for interpreting between American Sign Language and English
Nor is any language “a vague language.” Rather, every language has vague language, just as every language has specific language. Vagueness is a natural phenomenon; not everything in life is certain, specific, accurate, or clear. Since things are sometimes vague, people must be able to use language to express this vagueness. ASL has ways of expressing vagueness; therefore, ASL has vague language in it — just as English and every other language has vague language it it. Any language is too complex to be labeled “a vague language.” Conversely, it is not reasonable to say that any language is “not a vague language” — except insofar as to say there is no such thing as “a vague language.”
Until recently, people thought ASL was “a simple, concrete language incapable of expressing abstract thought.” Research has proved that wrong. My research into vague language (VL) in ASL dignifies ASL by proving that it is capable of expressing vagueness. Can you imagine if it were impossible for an ASL user to express vague or abstract thoughts? If that were the case, ASL would be a limited language. On the contrary, ASL is a healthy, natural language that affords its users the ability to express an infinite range of ideas. That is why I say ASL has vague language, and I support my point with the empirical research I conducted for my master’s thesis “Keeping it Vague: A Study of Vague Language in an American Sign Language Corpus and implications for interpreting between American Sign Language and English.”
I welcome discussion on this topic! Please use the comments section below to respond with whatever thoughts or feelings you have about vague language in ASL and/or other languages.