Communication & Medicine, Vol 9, No 1 (2012)

Exploring lexical gaps in Australian Sign Language for the purposes of health communication

George Major, Jemina Napier, Lindsay Ferrara, Trevor Johnston
Issued Date: 19 Feb 2013


Until recently no linguistic research had been carried out on Australian Sign Language (Auslan) with regard to its use in healthcare settings, although anecdotal information suggests that the health lexicon of Auslan is strikingly under-developed. This paper describes a study that examined health terminology from the perspective of deaf people. Based on a thematic analysis of focus group data, the paper outlines strategies that deaf Australians report using when communicating about health concepts that do not have established signs in Auslan. Participants described a variety of communicative strategies – including the use of fingerspelling, depiction and explanations – that they employ in order to circumnavigate lexical gaps when talking about health. The study provides a crucial starting point for a discussion of the implications of lexical gaps in Auslan and highlights issues of particular relevance for interpreters who take responsibility for brokering health terms and mediating health communication.

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DOI: 10.1558/cam.v9i1.37


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