Reply to reviews by Justine Cassell and Frank Bechter:

We would like to thank Doug Glick for giving us the opportunity to submit a paper to the Language and Culture Symposium. We would also like to express our gratitude and our excitement about their ideas to Justine Cassell and Frank Bechter, the reviewers.  Their responses to our work give us new ways to think about what we are trying to describe and understand as well as new directions to pursue. Both reviewers look at the paper from quite different viewpoints and areas of interest and this is highly provocative and stimulating.

Justine Cassell's insightful coments are not only a great contribution in terms of giving us important directions and links to consider, but in widening the debate for the readers of the L-C list. She gives important and fascinating background information about web cam technology, CMC, the history of communication, and other aspects of technology and communication. We are most appreciative for her work situating our work within larger contexts, and suggesting further literature to consider. The issue that she brings up about comparing ASL VMC to other modes of communication and examining "what notion of face-to-face communication has been mapped to the technological context" is an issue we intend to address in a larger work that we have in progress. We appreciate her important point that only some aspects of face-to-face communication are reproduced in CMC, and directing our attention to particular discourse-level phenomenon to explore further. We appreciate her comments on the importance of stressing how users change and adapt the technology.

Frank Bechter has given us very helpful comments on the nature of language and language modalities, particularly as this study is one that can address issues of sign language communication. One of the issues we are interested in exploring is how signers innovate and accommodate to constraints of the technology. We want to correct the impression that we have made, as understood by Frank Bechter, that "the entire mechanics of ASL breaks down" in the context of the computer mediated video transmission. It is true that the signers do use aspects of Signed English, or a sign language that is influenced by English grammar. They do this perhaps in order, as we have suggested, to be less dependent on space for creating certain grammatical relationships (within a new medium which sometimes distorts spatial relationships). However, the signers are not entirely using Signed English features, but rather the majority of their language is ASL. The point that we want to make is that we were surprised to see the kinds of Signed English features we did among our ASL users, and we speculated why this might be a choice by signers. We wouldn't want to say it's because ASL breaks down-but rather that the interactants are creatively using a number of resources they have for visual communication. We thank Frank Bechter for bringing it to our attention that this is an important issue in terms of the larger picture of signed languages (see for example Woodward 1973, Lane, Hoffmeister, and Bahan 1996, Lucas and Valli 1992, and Stokoe 1969), and for his many insightful comments. There are some very important ways that signers are adjusting their language use, and we are very interested in looking at this process.

Both reviewers raise the important issue of longer term effects of videophone communication, for example, Justine Castell inquires about the effects of the new communication technology on Deaf organizations, families, and regional variations in sign language.

We want to clarify that fingerspelling (the representation of English words using the manual alphabet), although it is an influence of English on ASL, is now part of most signers' ASL production for items such as personal names, street names, and abbreviations of state names. As well, some fingerspelled words have been transformed into signs over time (for example, J-O-B, which now elides the O). The example in the paper, however, of the spelling of the English modal 'D-I-D' is not ASL, but rather Signed English. We thank both reviewers for their help in identifying places where we need to clarify aspects of sign language use and aspects of style, register, or variety shifting between ASL and Signed English, as well as aspects of computer mediated communication.

We are very excited by the prospect of working on the stimulating ideas raised by the reviewers, and we thank them wholeheartedly for their very important contributions to our work.

We welcome any other comments



Lane, Harlan, Hoffmeister, Robert, and Bahan, Ben. 1996. A Journey into the Deaf World, Dawn Sign Press

Lucas, Ceil  and Valli, Clayton. 1992. Language contact in the American Deaf Community.  San Diego: Academic Press.

Stokoe, William. 1969. Sign Language Diglossia. Studies in Linguistics 21, 27-41.

Woodward, J. 1990. Sign English in the Education of Deaf Students. In H. Bornstein, ed.  Manual Communication in America. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 67-80.