Negotiating US language-in-education policy for multilingual deaf students through interpreters: The case of a Spanish-speaking mother and two ASL signing educators

Sarah Compton
University of Jyväskylä
Sarah.e.compton _arvaa_

National special education policy in the United States requires parents and educators to develop an individualized education plan (IEP) for each deaf student. The IEPs establish specific academic goals and determine the language(s) of instruction. For these meetings, schools are required to provide interpreters for participants who use languages other than English. In the last decade, the number of deaf students in the United States from homes where languages other than English are spoken has doubled from 22% to 47% (Gallaudet Research Institute). Thus, a significant number of IEP meetings are conducted multilingually and mediated by spoken and signed language interpreters.

This paper, then, examines the ways in which these meetings are mediated through three interpreters (one spoken language and two signed language interpreters). To do so, I draw on Nexus Analysis (Scollon & Scollon 2004) as a conceptual framework and ethnography of language policy (Johnson 2009) as a methodological heuristic to analyze the interaction order (Goffman 1983) as managed by interpreters. The data consist of a video-recorded IEP meeting conducted in an upper secondary school in the US; transcripts of recorded interviews with the IEP team (e.g. parent, educators, interpreters); and fieldnotes. The preliminary findings suggest that the ways in which the interpreters negotiate the exchange between the mother and the other participants (a) influences how the mother’s suggestions are (not) relayed to the team and (b) both challenges and reinforces circulating discourses about the degree to which parents participate in these decision-making processes.



Gallaudet Research Institute 2001, 2010. Regional and national summary report: Annual survey of deaf and hard of hearing children and youth. Author.

Goffman 1983. The interaction order. American Sociological Association, 48(1), 1-17.

Johnson 2009. Ethnography of language policy. Language Policy, 8, 139-159.

Scollon, & Scollon 2004. Nexus analysis: Discourse and the emerging internet. Routledge.


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