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Emboxed Discourse Musings. A thread...


Our new normal these days as we’re Zooming means we're living part of our lives in boxes. We’re having meetings and classes and happy hour on Zoom. Our discourse is being shaped by these boxes we’re appearing in, hence...

Emboxed discourse


From my perspective as a white Deaf sighted woman who uses ASL and teaches linguistics at a university, it’s been amazing seeing our language and communicative practices being shaped (and re-shaped) by those boxes.

Some random observations...

The first one I noticed off the bat was we fingerspell names or use name signs explicitly now. I remember in college my Deaf boyfriend arrived home and went “hi Julie” and I immediately took a step back wondering what was wrong and if we were going to get in a fight

We don’t usually address one another by names in sighted ASL discourse. But now because we can’t use pointing or eye gaze to indicate who should be given the floor in Zoom, we use names. Been a bit uncomfortable for me but as with many things these days, getting used to it

Then for eye gaze & signs that point (indicate), I can’t use my own Zoom layout (or whatever video chat platform you’re using, they all use boxes). B/c everyone’s layout looks different on their end. We have to be more mindful about turn-taking and making it clear who we mean

We all do that little internal chuckle when we sign things like "here" (in which the physical location is marked) because everyone's "here" is different these days but same through those boxes of ours. Our mental representations (or rather connections) are being re-shaped

When I join large meetings at Gallaudet, there are too many people to have all cameras on. But we still need to use cameras, of course, because we’re using sighted ASL and we need to see each other

So we handle this by having only the host & maybe a couple people helping run the Zoom meeting be visible and everyone else turns off their cameras. And whoa… first, as the host leading that meeting, it’s strange talking to yourself

You can see yourself in that Zoom box and (maybe it's just me... but) are even more conscious about whether you’re within the constraints of that box and even more ack about your own mannerisms. It’s a whole new kind of feedback system. One governed by that box you're in

I see people watching themselves sign, especially fingerspelling (which contains a lot of detail in such a small space) and correct themselves more when they notice that their hands are not clearly positioned

Then if the non-video participants want to say something, they have to turn on their camera. It’s a whole new turn-taking world. Figuring out when to turn on that camera because it really changes the Zoom layout and literally moves everyone to different places on the screen

(by the way, the gif from 12/ 👆 is from @RencaDunn's brilliant "10 types of Zoom people"

(Can you guess which Zoom type I am?
Hint: It depends on the day! 😫)
When all these boxes get moved around, it interrupts the flow of the conversation. We keep needing to reorient ourselves to continue. And not everyone's reorienting themselves mutually 😬 Then turning off the webcam gives a whole new meaning to "giving up the floor"

We also use spotlight which means the Zoom room is focused on your box (that yellow line) & people can see you as the main presenter in the "speaker view". But it also can make you all self-conscious, words fly away & you're like "ok just gonna go now 😫"

gif from @ryanlepic
Word choices are foregrounded sometimes. For example "spotlight" in ASL is a depiction of the light shining on the stage but in Zoom, that light's not there. Some people still use that depiction but others are using other depiction that reflects the multiple screens

And signs like these in ASL have a whole other (and eerily accurate) meaning now.

People have side convos w others either in the public chat, private chat or off-camera via phones (👀 @ryanlepic & @MiakoVillanueva 😂). It’s a new skill figuring out where to focus your attention & how to be ok w ignoring the rest. Luckily Twitter trained me well for this!

But I for one am experiencing the wit of the 'leave' button (a modern take on that wit of the staircase) far too often.
Or like my friend @ryanlepic said in one of our VEE-VEE side conversations "embodied experience, emboxied spirit"

(BTW 👆 VEE-VEE - widely used English representation in the North American ASL communities for the ASL sign to observe and analyze,…)
Seen a lot of chatter lately about how things are changing & how our language and communicative practices have changed too For those of us who study lang use, we know our embodied experience shapes our discourse. Been wild watching these boxes shape us #EmboxedDiscourse

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