Tactile sign languages

Louisa Willoughby, Shimako Iwasaki, Meredith BartlettHoward Manns
Table of contents

Within the field of sign language linguistics, an emerging area of interest is the sign language forms used by people who are both deaf and blind. In very simple terms, a deafblind signer will follow a conversation by placing one or both hands on top of the hands of someone who is signing. However, as this chapter will explore, the move from a visual to tactile mode of perception necessitates a number of adaptations in the way a message is communicated. Whether these changes lead to minor modifications of the existing visual sign language, the emergence of a new language specifically designed for tactile production and reception or something in between arguably differs depending on both the individual deafblind signer and the communities in which they are imbedded. In this entry we set out to give an overview of what is known about distinctive pragmatic strategies employed by deafblind signers around the world, be they linguistic or non-linguistic; highly codified or somewhat idiosyncratic adaptions. Our goal in taking a broad-sweeping view in this chapter is to give an overview of the different ways in which deafblind people respond to the challenge of communication with limited or no access to the visual or auditory channel, and to consider what (if any) insights this might give about pragmatics in human communication more generally. We note that the choice of terms to describe these ways of signing is potentially problematic, as calling something a “tactile sign language” might seem to be making claims that the variety has diverged markedly from the parent sign language (i.e. is a ‘new’ language) and/or has been specifically optimised for tactile delivery. However, within this relatively new field of research and interpreting practice “tactile sign language” or “tactile [sign language name]” has become the default way of referring to the form of signing used by deafblind people, and is thus our umbrella term of choice in this entry.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price.


Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association
Baker, C.
1977 “Regulators and turn-taking in American Sign Language discourse.” In On the Other Hand, ed. by L. Friedman, 215–236. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Bell, L.
2017 “ ‘You feel with your eyes’: The creation of ‘New’ prostates and surgeons in and through Robotic-assisted radical prostatectomy.” Presented at the The anatomy of the Image, Melbourne, Monash University.
Berge, S. S. and E. Raanes
2013 “Coordinating the chain of utterances: An analysis of communicative flow and turn taking in an interpreted group dialogue for deaf-blind persons.” Sign Language Studies 13(3): 350–371. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Bezemer, J. and G. Kress
2014 “Touch: A resource for making meaning.” Australian Journal of Language and Literacy 37(2): 77.Google Scholar
Bono, M., K. Kikuchi, P. Cibulk and Y. Osugi
2014 “A colloquial corpus of Japanese Sign Language: Linguistic resources for observing sign language conversations.” Presented at the LREC .
Bono, M., R. Sakaida, R. Makino, T. Okada, K. Kikuchi, M. Cibulka, L. Willoughby, S. Iwasaki, and S. Fukushima
2018 “Tactile Japanese Sign Language and Finger Braille: An example of data collection for minority languages in Japan.” Presented at the 8th Workshop on the Representation & Processing of Sign Languages: Involving the Language Community , Miyazaki. http://​lrec​-conf​.org​/workshops​/lrec2018​/W1​/pdf​/18027​_W1​.pdf
Cibulka, P.
2015 “When the hands do not go home: A micro-study of the role of gesture phases in sequence suspension and closure.” Discourse Studies 17(1): 3–24. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2016 “On how to do things with holds: Manual movement phases as part of interactional practices in signed conversation.” Sign Language Studies 16(4): 447–472. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Coates, J. and T. Givon
1997 “The construction of a collaborative floor in women’s friendly talk.” Typological Studies in Language 34: 55–90.DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Coates, J. and R. Sutton-Spence
2001 “Turn-taking patterns in deaf conversation.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 5(4): 507–529. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Collins, S. and K. Petronio
1998 “What happens in tactile ASL.” In Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities, ed. by C. Lucas, 18–37. Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.Google Scholar
Duncan, S.
1972 “Some signals and rules for taking speaking turns in conversations.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 23(2): 283.DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Edwards, T.
2012 “Sensing the rhythms of everyday life: Temporal integration and tactile translation in the Seattle Deaf-Blind community.” Language in Society 41(1): 29–71. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2014a “From compensation to integration: Effects of the pro-tactile movement on the sublexical structure of Tactile American Sign Language.” Journal of Pragmatics 69: 22–41. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2014bLanguage Emergence in the Seattle DeafBlind Community. Berkeley: University of California. http://​search​.proquest​.com​/openview​/63cb352317bb90097011b9a64d105b52​/1​?pq​-origsite​=gscholarGoogle Scholar
2018 “Sign-creation in the Seattle DeafBlind community.” Gesture 16(2): 305–328.DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Girard-Groeber, S.
2015 “The management of turn transition in signed interaction through the lens of overlaps.” Frontiers in Psychology 6: 741.Google Scholar
Groeber, S. and E. Pochon-Berger
2014 “Turns and turn-taking in sign language interaction: A study of turn-final holds.” Journal of Pragmatics 65: 121–136. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Haas, C., E. Fleetwood and M. Ernest
1995 “An analysis of ASL Variation within DeafBlind-DeafBlind interaction: Question forms, backchanneling, and turn taking.” School of Communication Student Forum 103–40.Google Scholar
Hepp, P.
1998 “Taubblindheit - Doppplte Kommunikationsbehinderung: Die Bedeutung der ‘taktilen Gebärdensprache’ in Deutschland [Deafblindness - double communication handicap. The meaning of tactile sign language in Germany].” Das Zeichen 12(45): 384–391.Google Scholar
Iwasaki, S., M. Bartlett, H. Manns and L. Willoughby
in press). "The Challenges of multimodality and multi-sensoriality: Methodological issues in analyzing tactile signed interaction.” Journal of Pragmatics.DOI logo
Janzen, Terry, Barbara Shaffer, and Sherman Wilcox
1999 “Signed language pragmatics.” In Handbook of Pragmatics, ed. by Jan-Ola Östman & Jef Verschueren. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Kikuchi, K.
2011 “Nishakan no shuwa kaiwa deno junban koutai ni okeru shisen idou no bunseki [An analysis of gaze shifts in turn-taking in sign language conversations].” The Japanese Journal of Language in Society 14(1): 154–168.Google Scholar
Lahtinen, R.
2008Haptices and Haptemes: A Case Study of Developmental Process in Touch-Based Communication of Acquired Deafblind People. PhD Dissertstion, Helsinki University.
Lahtinen, R., R. Palmer and S. Ojala
2012 “Visual art experiences through touch using haptices.” Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 45: 268–276.DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Matsumoto, D., H. Hwang and M. Frank
2016 “The body: Postures, gait, proxemics, and haptics.” In APA Handbook of Nonverbal Communication, 387–400. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.DOI logoGoogle Scholar
McCleary, L. and T. de A. Leite
2013 “Turn-taking in Brazilian sign language: Evidence from overlap.” Journal of Interactional Research in Communication Disorders 4(1): 123–154.Google Scholar
Mesch, J.
2001Tactile Sign Language: Turn Taking and Question in Signed Conversations of Deaf-Blind People. Hamburg: Signum.Google Scholar
2013 “Tactile signing with one-handed perception.” Sign Language Studies 13(2): 238–263. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
2016 “Manual backchannel responses in signers’ conversations in Swedish Sign Language.” Language & Communication 50: 22–41. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Mesch, J., E. Raanes and L. Ferrara
2015 “Co-forming real space blends in tactile signed language dialogues.” Cognitive Linguistics 26(2): 261–287. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Napier, J., R. McKee and D. Goswell
2010Sign Language Interpreting: Theory and Practice in Australia and New Zealand, 2nd edition. Annandale, N.S.W: Federation Press.Google Scholar
Napoli, D. J.
2014 “A magic touch: Deaf gain and the benefits of tactile sensation.” In Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity, ed. by H. Dirksen. L. Bauman and J. J. Murray, 211–232. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
Nielsen, G.
(ed.) 2012103 Haptic Signs - A Reference Book. The Danish Association of the Deafblind.Google Scholar
Perniss, P.
2015 “Collecting and anlysing sign language data: Video requirements and use of annotation software.” In Research Methods in Sign Language Studies: A Practical Guide, ed. by E. Orfanidou, B. Woll and G. Morgan, 55–73. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
Petronio, K.
2010 “Deaf-Blind interpreting: Building on what you already know.” Cadernos de Tradução 2(26): 237–273. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Petronio, K. and V. Dively
2006 “Yes, no, visibility, and variation in ASL and Tactile ASL.” Sign Language Studies 7(1): 57–98. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Quinto-Pozos, D.
2002 “Deixis in the visual/gestural and tactile/gestural modalities.” In Modality and Structure in Signed and Spoken Languages, ed. by R. P. Meier, K. Cormier and D. Quinto-Pozos, 442–467. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Raanes, E.
2011 “Tegnrom og taktilt tegnspråk.” Norsk Lingvistisk Tidsskrift 29: 54–86.Google Scholar
Raanes, E. and S. S. Berge
2017 “Sign language interpreters’ use of haptic signs in interpreted meetings with deafblind persons.” Journal of Pragmatics 107: 91–104. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Reed, C. M., L. A. Delhorne, N. I. Durlach and S. D. Fischer
1995 “A study of the tactual reception of sign language.” Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 38(2): 477–489.DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Sacks, H., E. A. Schegloff and G. Jefferson
1974 “A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation.” Language 50: 696–735.DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Schembri, A., J. Fenlon, R. Rentelis, S. Reynolds and K. Cormier
2013 “Building the British Sign Language Corpus.” Language Documentation and Conservation 7: 136–154.Google Scholar
Schwarz, S.
2004Eléments pour une analyse de la langue des signes tactile pratiquée par les personnes sourdes-aveugles. Université Paris VIII - St Denis, Département de Sciences du Langage.Google Scholar
2009Stratégies de synchronisation interactionnelle: alternance conversationnelle et rétroaction en cours de discours chez des locuteurs sourdaveugles pratiquant la Langue des Signes Française tactile [Interactional synchronization strategies: Alternating and conversational communication and feedback signals in French tactile sign language]. Université Paris VIII - St Denis, Département de Sciences du Langage.Google Scholar
Stivers, T., N.J. Enfield, P. Brown, C. Englert, M. Hayashi, T. Heinemann, et al.
2009 “Universals and cultural variation in turn-taking in conversation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 106: 10587–10592. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Tannen, D.
1990You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
van Herreweghe, M. and M. Vermeerbergen
2012 “Data collection.” In Sign Language: An International Handbook, ed. by B. Woll, M. Steinbach and R. Pfau, 401–420. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Willoughby, L., H. Manns, S. Iwasaki and M. Bartlett
2014 “Misunderstanding and repair in Tactile Auslan.” Sign Language Studies 14(4): 419–443. DOI logoGoogle Scholar