The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages

By Ceil Lucas | Go to book overview

5
Discourse analysis
Melanie Metzger and Ben Bahan

Everyone knows that when individuals in the presence of others respond to events, their glances, looks, and postural shifts carry all kinds of implication and meaning. When in these settings words are spoken, then tone of voice, manner of uptake, restarts, and the variously positioned pauses similarly qualify. As does manner of listening. Every adult is wonderfully accomplished in producing all of these effects, and wonderfully perceptive in catching their significance when performed by accessible others. Everywhere and constantly this gestural resource is employed, yet rarely itself is systematically examined. In retelling events–an activity which occupies much of our speaking time– we are forced to sketch in these shadings a little, rendering a few movements and tones into words to do so. In addition to this folk transcription, we can employ discourse theatrics, vivifying the replay with caricaturized reenactments. In both cases, we can rely on our audience to take the part for the whole and cooperatively catch our meaning. Thus, in talk about how individuals acted or will act, we can get by with a small repertoire of alludings and simulations. Fiction writers and stage performers extend these everyday capacities, carrying the ability to reinvoke beyond that possessed by the rest of us.

Erving Goffman (1981: 1–2)

This phase of sign language behavior is of fundamental importance, and to the writers' knowledge has never been mentioned in the literature about American sign language. Many teachers and psychological counselors of the deaf who have been fairly successful in learning to make the signs and to finger spell and read the signing and spelling of deaf pupils and clients, have formed the impression that deaf persons are unresponsive, overly dependent, or lacking in self-reliance. What produced this impression seems to be a number of experiences of this kind: the teacher or counselor asks a question or gives a direction and gets no response but a watchful waiting attitude, often interpreted as the expectation of prompting or of help. But what has really happened in the linguistic situation is that the teacher's or counselor's utterance, correct enough in sign production and order, was followed by the kind of juncture that signals the end of a statement. The watcher is not unresponsive; on the contrary, he is responding perfectly correctly, waiting for the next utterance to follow, which the signer's “out of awareness” signal has told him is coming. When, however, the teacher or counselor holds his [or her] hands fixed in the last position reached in the sig of the ultimate sign or moves them toward the

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The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Figures ix
  • Tables x
  • Contributors xi
  • Foreword xv
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xvii
  • Abbreviations xviii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Multilingualism: the Global Approach to Sign Languages 8
  • 3 - Bilingualism and Language Contact 33
  • 4 - Sociolinguistic Variation 61
  • Notes *
  • 5 - Discourse Analysis 112
  • 6 - Language Planning and Policy 145
  • Notes *
  • Appendix 6.1 - Statement on the Recognition of the National Sign Languages of the Deaf Passed at the Third European Congress on Sign Language Research, Hamburg (1989) *
  • Appendix 6.2 - World Federation of the Deaf Calls for Recognition of Sign Languages *
  • 7 - Language Attitudes 181
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography 217
  • Index 249
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