The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages

The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages

The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages

The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages

Synopsis

This is an accessible introduction to the major areas of sociolinguistics as they relate to sign languages and deaf communities. Clearly organized, it brings together a team of leading experts in sign linguistics to survey the field, and covers a wide range of topics including variation, multilingualism, bilingualism, language attitudes, discourse analysis, language policy and planning. Each chapter introduces the key issues in each area of inquiry and provides a comprehensive review of the literature. The book also includes suggestions for further reading and helpful exercises.

Excerpt

No topic within sociolinguistics reflects the growth of the field more symbolically than the study of the sociolinguistics of sign languages. Less than half a century ago, the fundamental debate centered on the rightful place of sign languages with a complete set of linguistic structures and full range of natural language entitlements. Such debates were, of course, framed by the ideology of linguistic subordination, in which difference was equated with deficit and legitimacy was defined by dominance. Happily, but not without continued vigilance, the study of sign languages has now developed a full-course sociolinguistic menu, with ample offerings in all of the major areas of specialization now subsumed under the general rubric of sociolinguistics.

The essays in this collection represent a full complement of sociolinguistic topics, including both macro-variables that relate to broader situations external to the community and micro-variables that focus on specific factors affecting particular language events and interactions. On a macro-level, we witness concern for the distribution and roles of sign languages throughout the world, and the influence of political, economic, social and ideological conditions on their existence. Familiar sociolinguistic topics include issues related to multilingualism, language choice and shift, language policy and planning and language ecology. The issues are at once both basic and complex. On the most fundamental level, we still find the existence of an assumed correlation between sign language and national boundaries and/or spoken-language families manifested in the nomenclature of sign languages: a continuing reflection of a legacy of erroneous assumptions and underlying language ideology about sign languages. On a descriptive level, however, there are complex issues related to documenting the sign languages of the world, sorting out historical and comparative relationships and arriving at valid typological classifications of different sign languages.

On a micro-level, we see increasing attention to interactional sociolinguistics and language variation, two of the most prominent subfields within sociolinguistics. The various dimensions of discourse analysis, for example, seem to come of age in this volume. While there is still a paucity of research on the full range of discourse topics, we have seen an encouraging burst of activity on the . . .

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