Role shift is used to describe interactions between two or more people or animals. Its most common use is when describing a conversation you have overseen between two other people, or a conversation you have had with someone previously. The idea is that you become one speaker, and adopt their position, facial expression and energy, then you say what they were saying, then you change to become the other speaker, with a different position and facial expression, and sign as if you were them.
There are a number of rules associated with the use of role shift, and these may seem very unnatural at first, but become easier with practise. Warning: role shift is an advanced concept and takes a lot of practise. Here are some rules:
Identify each person first – use classifiers to locate the people in space and say who they each are.
Move shoulders – after you have identified the people, shift your shoulders to “become” each person as they speak.
Use eye gaze – when you are speaking as one of the people you have identified, show them looking at the other person. If the other person is taller, look up, if the other person is lying on the floor, look down.
Use facial expression – show the expression on the faces of each of the people who are talking. Make the contrast between the two people as clear as possible.
Using role shift, you should never use the signs for “he said” and “she asked”. Identify the people you are talking about and then become them, as they converse.
Watch the video to see the following conversation between a mother and her daughter who has just arrived home late.
Mother: (angrily) Where have you been?
Daughter: (defensive) Out.
Mother: I’ve been waiting up for you, worrying! It’s after twelve o’clock!
Daughter: It wasn’t my fault. I rang for a taxi but it didn’t come. I had to wait for another one.
Mother: Well next time, ring me!
Daughter: (as if her mother is being over protective) Alright.
Now have a go at it yourself. Try using role shift to describe a conversation. Then look over the rules and ask yourself whether you remembered to follow all of them. Chances are, the first few times you’ll forget at least one rule, if not most of them. Try the conversation again, this time with the rules added. Practise practise practise – that’s the only way you’ll get the hang of role shift.