American Sign Language (ASL) is a rich and complex language, with syntax and modes of expression separate from American English. I consider anyone practicing both to be multilingual. In other books—notably Course Correction—I’ve rendered multilingual characters’ dialogue as continuous, meaning I haven’t denoted for readers when a character switches spoken languages. For those characters, using both is natural.
So why have I used ((double parentheses)) to denote ASL in this book? A few reasons.
One reason was to avoid dialogue tags. With signing, the most straightforward tag would be “he signed.” But as Mackey became more proficient in ASL, and he and Trick more fluid in using both spoken English and ASL in their conversations, it became awkward to constantly cue the reader with “he signed,” then “he said,” then “he signed” again. More important: our eyes tend to skip dialogue tags.
But I didn’t want readers to miss that growing fluency and fluidity in Trick and Mackey’s conversations. It’s part of their relationship arc, helping to show the growth of personal and professional trust between them, as Mackey turns his drive to learn toward fuller communication, and Trick takes on the role of mentor for probably the first time ever. Is it Trick’s responsibility to teach Mackey how to sign? No. But it’s a cue to his changing attitude toward the unit and his partner that he’s willing to do so.
By the end of the book, Trick and Mackey have three means of verbal/conceptual communication: telepathy in their shark forms, ASL, and spoken/written English. In all my shifter books, I’ve denoted the telepathy using italics, so it wasn’t a stretch in this universe to denote the ASL using another form of formatting or punctuation. I settled on double parentheses because they flow fairly well alongside the vocalized dialogue and won’t screw with the ebook’s underlying HTML.
Are the double parentheses a perfect solution? Nope. For one thing, they may not come through for readers using text-to-speech tools to access this book. As of this writing, an official audio edition isn’t available, due to production cost. When I’m able to produce an audiobook of Entry Shock, I’ll revisit the signing.
One final note on syntax. ASL’s syntax is different from spoken English. Signed statements and questions often begin with a time cue to give context (“this morning,” “yesterday,” “last year”), and use prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and word order in different ways from English. Because most readers of this book are likely to be more familiar with spoken English than ASL, however, I’ve rendered the signed dialogue using English syntax.