Milestone: 250 downloads of my thesis on vague language so far

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

ASL is not a vague language

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.

Deaf Heart, confidentiality, vagueness, and transparency

There is currently a discourse within the American Deaf community about the resignation of two Deaf members of the board of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). The members who resigned, Lewis Merkin and Naomi Sheneman, say that the confidentiality agreements they signed when they joined the board prevent them from discussing in detail what happened that they felt they had to resign. They say, vaguely, that they were reprimanded for something they did that was a trifling matter within the norms of Deaf culture, and that, in general, they do not feel the RID board has a Deaf Heart. The resigning members, and others who support embracing the values of Deaf Heart and Native View, demand more Deaf leadership in RID and more transparency from RID.

In an attempt to understand the term Deaf Heart, and to catch up on the conversation regarding Deaf members of the RID board, I sought, watched, and collected a playlist of videos about Deaf Heart on YouTube. I also Googled ‘Deaf Heart’ and read and listed two articles below (actually, I had read one of them when it came out last month, and I’m still not sure I understand). I’m sure this is not the complete discourse on Deaf Heart and the Deaf RID board member resignations; this is just all I was able to find. If you know of any other vlogs or blog posts I should add, please let me know. In the meanwhile, I hope these references help others who want to get the news and listen to the discourse.

Each of these videos touches upon the concepts of Deaf Heart and/or Native View, though none of them defines it. The first video in this playlists seeks clarification from the diverse membership of the Deaf community (including Deaf people, interpreters both hearing and deaf, people with Deaf family members, social service providers, and others) about Deaf Heart. Deanna Donaldson, the author of this first vlog, requests answers to four questions about Deaf Heart, and invites vloggers to make additional comments for up to two minutes. Her invitation goes out to Houston, Texas, but as it is on the World Wide Web it is a good prompt for vloggers everywhere, and I encourage people to post video responses. I would like to see what people have to say about this thing called Deaf Heart.

An observation that might make for another whole blog post is the vagueness in which these vloggers couch their discussion of these confidential issues. Anyone who thinks ASL is not a vague language, or there is no vagueness in ASL, will see that people can in fact use ASL to be vague. I invite those who know ASL — which, by the way, you have to do to be able to watch these videos (sorry) — to note the vague language and tell me what you see.

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Writing about language using italics

When I wrote my master’s thesis on vague language, I often cited vague words and phrases. At first I put them in quotation marks, but the quotes cluttered the pages, and by the time I was ready to publish, I wondered if I should use italics instead. I used APA style*, so I consulted my APA Manual and I found that, indeed, you should use italics for “a letter, word or phrase cited as a linguistic example” (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 105). Some examples offered in the APA Manual are:

words such as big and little
the letter a
the meaning of to fit tightly together
a row of Xs

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this until the day before I submitted my thesis for publication, so I had to go through a hundred pages changing “sort of” to sort of, “threeish” to threeish, and so on. I hope this little blog post saves others the time I spent undoing my errors.

* Chicago and MLA style manuals call for the use of italics for linguistic examples as well.

References

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Greene, D. J. (2013). Keeping it vague: A study of vague language in an American Sign Language corpus and implications for interpreting between American Sign Language and English. (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.wou.edu/theses/2/

Modern Language Association. (2008). MLA style manual and guide to scholarly publishing (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Modern Language Association.

University of Chicago. (2010). The Chicago manual of style (16th ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Thesis published on vague language (VL) in ASL and English!

I am thrilled to announce that my thesis has been published online, available for all to read. The title is “Keeping it Vague: A Study of Vague Language in an American Sign Language Corpus and Implications for Interpreting between American Sign Language and English” and the URL is short & sweet: http://digitalcommons.wou.edu/theses/2/

Thanks to all who expressed interest in reading this work; thanks to the Master of Arts in Interpreting Studies with an emphasis in Teaching Interpreting program at Western Oregon University (WOU); and, thanks to WOU for venturing into digital publication with our program’s master’s theses. It is an honor to be the second postgraduate student to publish a thesis on WOU’s Digital Commons repository.

Please do email me@danielgreene.com with any questions or to discuss this thesis, and feel free to “talk amongst yourselves.”

References

Greene, D. J. (2013). Keeping it vague: A study of vague language in an American Sign Language corpus and implications for interpreting between American Sign Language and English. (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.wou.edu/theses/2/

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