Sign Bilingualism: Language Development, Interaction, and Maintenance in Sign Language Contact Situations

By Rosenstock, Rachel | Sign Language Studies, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Sign Bilingualism: Language Development, Interaction, and Maintenance in Sign Language Contact Situations


Rosenstock, Rachel, Sign Language Studies


Sign Bilingualism: Language Development, Interaction, and Maintenance in Sign Language Contact Situations, ed. Carolina Plaza-Pust and Esperanza Morales-López (Philadelphia: Benjamins, 2008, 389 pp., hardcover, $158.00, ISBN 978-90-272-4149-8)

THE EDITORS of this volume have put together twelve papers under the tide Sign Bilingualism. The papers cover a variety of topics, including code mixing in Li acquisition, language planning and its impact on interpreters, language contact in the development of writing, and the correlation between the use of space in sign language and reading comprehension. I would recommend to potential readers (and they should be numerous!) to start reading the book from the back. In the final chapter, Plaza-Pust and Morales-López do an excellent job of introducing the relevant concepts of sign bilingualism, language maintenance and planning, and language contact. Drawing on previous studies in both spoken and signed languages, they show connections to the studies presented in this volume, bridge the diverse topics presented in the other eleven chapters, and demonstrate the relevance of linking theory and practice. Plaza-Pust and Morales-López hope that "the knowledge that can be gleaned from each of the chapters in this volume also contributes to a more dynamic relationship between the research-policy-practice axis that determines sign bilingualism and its perception in the broader social context" (372). And indeed, the contributions to this volume illustrate the range of research on linguistic structures and their impact on language policies and also advise practitioners on putting research into practice. This "course," which is offered as dessert, in this reviewer's opinion, ought to be instead a tantalizing appetizer.

The first course offering by Baker and van der Bogaerde (1-28) discusses the code mixing in the input to and the output from children. It is a significant contribution in understanding the natural interactions within families that comprise both deaf and hearing members. Their results show that deaf children receive significantly less code blending in their input from their deaf mothers and also use less in their own utterances. Differences appear in the types of code blends, with hearing children producing and receiving far more blends with Dutch as the base language, while the deaf children in the study receive and produce almost exclusively blends with NGT as their base language. Baker and van der Bogaerde also note that the most commonly blended word classes are nouns, verbs, and adjectives, results that contradict previous studies on code blending in both deaf and hearing adults (Emmorey el al. 2005; Muysken 2004).

If we consider Baker and van der Bogaerde's chapter a first course, the next section of the book could serve as the main courses. As most of the contributions in this volume are concerned with bilingualism in the context of deaf education, this is the core of the book. The chapter by Ardito et al. (137-64) stands out because it discusses practical applications of bilingual education. The authors describe in great detail activities in a bilingual kindergarten class aimed at increasing appreciation of and competence in literacy. Ardito et al. give a brief but useful introduction to bilingualism and early literacy. The remainder of the chapter describes the principles, methods, and successes of team teaching reading to a mixed group of hearing and deaf children using Italian Sign Language and Signed Italian. This chapter in particular will be of interest to educators looking for concrete advice on how to put what we know about sign bilingualism into practice.

Educators and researchers will appreciate Krausneker's report (195-222) on the language use and awareness of deaf and hearing children in a bilingual classroom in Austria. After situating her research within the larger context of Austrian deaf educational and societal policies, Krausneker elaborates the findings of her longitudinal study of the use of OGS and German in a mixed class of hearing and deaf students. …

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