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Enhancing BSL Interpretation: Unleashing the Power of Discourse and Miscue Analysis

As BSL interpreters and translators, it is essential to continually refine our skills to provide accurate and meaningful interpretations. Two valuable tools that can greatly enhance our abilities are discourse analysis and miscue analysis. In this blog post, we will explore each of these concepts to understand their direct relevance to BSL/English interpretation/translation. Additionally, we will delve into the intricacies of miscue analysis by Dennis Cokely, highlighting its role in improving self-analysis skills, enhancing accuracy, reducing cognitive load, and ultimately delivering more effective BSL interpretations.

Discourse Analysis and Successful Interpretation:

Discourse analysis, as defined by Hatch (1992), focuses on how communication is structured to be socially appropriate and linguistically accurate. In the context of BSL/English interpretation, understanding discourse structures and patterns is crucial for interpreters to convey accurate content, appropriate context, and appropriate linguistic form. Interpreters/translators must analyse and interpret not just individual signs or words but also the overall discourse structure, including themes, topics, events, register, settings, and speaker's goals. By doing so, they can ensure that the interpreted message aligns with the intentions and meaning of the original speaker.

Interpreters and translators need a strong command of both languages to accurately convey the content of the message. They must understand the nuances and subtleties of the source language to capture the intended meaning and accurately transfer it into the target language. Without a deep understanding of both languages, interpreters may misinterpret or omit crucial information, leading to a loss of accuracy and potentially changing the overall message.

Discourse structures, transitions, and vocabulary are significant components of effective communication. Interpreters must understand the linguistic forms and structures used in both languages to faithfully convey the message. This includes recognising and interpreting discourse markers, intonation patterns, and other linguistic cues that contribute to the overall meaning and flow of the discourse.

Framing Information and Cultural Considerations:

In the process of interpreting/translating, interpreters and translators often face the challenge of bridging cultural gaps between Deaf and hearing individuals. Framing information becomes particularly important in such situations. Cultural references, idiomatic expressions, and examples may not have the same meaning or relevance in both cultures. BSL interpreters must provide additional information or frames of reference to make the interpreted sentence understandable to the receiver. This ensures that the interpreted message is not only linguistically accurate but also culturally appropriate and accessible for all parties involved.

Some examples of framing would be:

Example 1: Cultural Idioms

English: "He's a real couch potato.”

Example 2: Cultural References

English: "It's raining cats and dogs."

These examples demonstrate how BSL interpreters must go beyond word-for-word translation and consider the cultural context of both languages. By providing additional information or framing, interpreters ensure that the message is accurately conveyed, culturally relevant, and accessible to all parties involved.

Turn-Taking and Smooth Communication:

Turn-taking is a fundamental aspect of any conversation. For interpreters and translators, understanding the dynamics of turn-taking and applying them in their interpretations is essential for maintaining smooth and effective communication. Linguistic cues such as intonation, pausing,

and phrasing play a significant role in signalling turn transitions. By accurately interpreting these cues, interpreters and translators can ensure that the flow of communication remains uninterrupted and natural. For live translations where a

translator may be working form an autocue, understanding speech patterns can really help with reflecting tone and turn taking, using the linguistic cues to inform their translation. Moreover, being aware of different assumptions about turn-taking helps interpreters navigate potential interruptions or misunderstandings that may arise due to different cultural norms or individual communication styles.

Discourse Markers and Coherence:

Discourse markers, including words like "well," "oh," "but," and "and," play a crucial role in structuring speech and indicating the relationships between different parts of a discourse. For BSL interpreters, recognising and interpreting these markers accurately is essential for maintaining coherence in the interpretation. Discourse markers contribute to the overall meaning, tone, and flow of the discourse. However, it is important to note that these markers may not always carry their literal dictionary meanings. BSL interpreters and translators should interpret them contextually, understanding their function within the discourse to ensure accurate and meaningful interpretations.


Speaker A: "I heard you went on a trip. How was it?"

Speaker B: "Well, it was like a rollercoaster ride. We had our ups and downs."

Speaker A: "Oh, really? Tell me more about it."

Speaker B: "But before I continue, I have to mention that it wasn't an actual rollercoaster."

In this example, the word "well" is used as a discourse marker to introduce Speaker B's response and indicate a transition. The word "oh" is used to express surprise or interest. The word "but" is used to present a contrast or exception. And the word "and" is used to connect ideas. None of these words are used in their literal dictionary sense but serve as discourse markers to convey the speaker's intended meaning and contribute to the overall structure and coherence of the conversation.

Speech Acts and Intention:

Speech act analysis focuses on the function of utterances rather than their form. Understanding speech acts, such as complimenting, provides BSL interpreters with valuable insights into the intentions and social dynamics within a conversation. By examining who gives compliments to whom, what constitutes a compliment, and the potential functions of compliments, interpreters can accurately convey not just the words being spoken but also the underlying social and cultural meanings. This knowledge enables interpreters to navigate the intricacies of social interactions and appropriately convey the intentions and nuances of speech acts in their interpretations.

Miscue Analysis by Dennis Cokely:

Miscue analysis, developed by ASL interpreter Dennis Cokely, is a powerful tool for interpreters to self-reflect, identify, and rectify discrepancies between the intended meaning and the interpretation produced. By utilizing miscue analysis, interpreters can critically evaluate their work and pinpoint areas for improvement. Understanding miscues helps interpreters refine their BSL production skills, leading to more accurate interpretations and reducing the likelihood of miscommunication. Miscue analysis empowers interpreters to constantly enhance their abilities and ensure the highest level of accuracy and clarity in their interpretations.

Reducing Cognitive Load and Enhancing Interpretation:

Having a deep understanding of discourse structures, discourse markers, turn-taking, and speech acts enables BSL interpreters to navigate complex linguistic and cultural dimensions effectively. By employing these analytical tools during the interpretation process, interpreters can reduce cognitive load and improve their overall performance. Analysing discourse structures allows interpreters to anticipate the flow of conversation and prepare for upcoming themes or topics, facilitating smoother and more accurate interpretations. Additionally, interpreting discourse markers and speech acts in real-time helps interpreters capture the nuances and intentions behind the speaker's words, resulting in more coherent and impactful interpretations.

Discourse analysis and miscue analysis are invaluable resources for BSL interpreters and translators seeking to enhance their skills and deliver accurate and meaningful interpretations. By understanding the nuances of discourse structures, cultural references, turn-taking, discourse markers, speech acts, and employing miscue analysis techniques, interpreters can continually improve their self-analysis skills, produce more accurate interpretations, reduce cognitive load, and ultimately provide high-quality BSL interpretations. Embracing these tools and participating in training courses, such as the upcoming "Enhancing BSL Production: Unleash the Power of Discourse and Miscue Analysis for BSL – English Interpreters," on the 17th October 2023, offers interpreters a transformative opportunity to unleash their potential, refine their abilities, and contribute to effective cross-cultural understanding through language.


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