Effects of Early Exposure to Sign Language on the Biomechanics of Interpreting

January 1, 2016


Sign language interpreters are routinely exposed to the high physical and cognitive demands inherent to the profession. Unfortunately, many interpreters suffer from musculoskeletal disorders as a result of this exposure. There are a myriad of factors that can contribute to the development of a musculoskeletal disorder, but many of these are not under the control of the interpreter. However, individual technique is something that affects upper extremity biomechanics and is something that an interpreter can regulate. Research with musicians has demonstrated that early exposure to musical technique can lead to the development of a technique that is more biomechanically efficient than the technique used by musicians who learn later in life. By extension, a similar effect may exist among sign language interpreters based on the age at which an interpreter first gains competency in a signed language. The objective of this study was to evaluate whether interpreters who learn sign language at a young age (middle school or younger) sign differently than interpreters who did not learn sign language until after high school. An experiment was conducted in which two groups of interpreters interpreted a recorded classroom lecture. Instrumentation was used to evaluate the posture, velocity, and acceleration of the wrist. For all biomechanical variables analyzed, no statistically significant difference was observed between the interpreters who learned sign language early in life and the interpreters who learned sign language later in life.


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Donner, Abigail; Marshall, Matthew; and Mozrall, Jacqueline (2016) “Effects of Early Exposure to Sign Language on the Biomechanics of Interpreting,” Journal of Interpretation: Vol. 25 : Iss. 1 , Article 4.

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