Signed languages of American Indian communities: Considerations for interpreting work and research

Jeffrey E. Davis, Melanie McKay-Cody

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


This chapter explores the roles of signed language interpreters working in American Indian and Alaskan Native (AI/AN) settings.1 The findings reported here are based on the authors' ethnographic fieldwork and observations from over two decades of combined experiences-collaborating, interpreting, and participating in North American Indian communities. The central focus of our collaborative research (1990-present) has been the study of traditional and contemporary varieties of indigenous sign language used among North American Indian communities. From 1995 to 2000 we also served as consultants for the National Multicultural Interpreting Project (NMIP). This chapter features the combined results of our research studies and reexamines the major objectives and outcomes of the NMIP, in order to suggest strategies, best practices, and links to resources for signed language interpreters working in these contexts. Sign language interpreters are called to work in a variety of AI/AN (Native) settings and there is great linguistic and cultural diversity among Native individuals and groups. Though approximately 200 American Indian languages are spoken in the United States and Canada today, the majority of these are endangered, with about one-third of these languages being nearly extinct (cf. Mithun, 1999). Currently, there is an extreme urgency to maintain and revitalize Native languages.2 The rapid decline of Native languages in past years has been due to many historical, social, cultural, and educational factors, which are being called to attention in this chapter. One of the main outcomes of intensive language and cultural contact has been a shift towards English as the dominant or primary language of most Native individuals. These matters are tightly intertwined, and rendered more complex considering the variety of signed and spoken languages used among American cultural groups (e.g., Deaf, American Indian, and Deaf Native).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInterpreting In Multilingual, Multicultural Contexts
PublisherGallaudet University Press
Number of pages39
ISBN (Print)9781563684456
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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