Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

A Sociolinguistic Profile of the Peruvian Deaf Community

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

A Sociolinguistic Profile of the Peruvian Deaf Community

Article excerpt

TO BEGIN this sociolinguistic profile of the deaf communities and sign language varieties of Peru, we present a brief geographical and demographical overview of the country and our research goals.

Geographical Overview

Peru is located on the western coast of South America and is surrounded by Ecuador to the north, Colombia to the northeast, Brazil to the east, Bolivia to the southeast, and Chile to the south. The land mass is roughly 1.3 million square kilometers. With approximately eight million people, Lima, Peru's capital, is the largest city. Other large cities include Arequipa (760,000) and Cusco (300,000) in the south, Trujillo (768,000) and Chiclayo (592,000) along the northern coast, and Iquitos (430,000) in the Amazon Basin in the east (see figure ? for a map of Peru, modified from the CIA World Factbook Peru map, focusing on our target survey locations).

The Peruvian Deaf Population

The total population of Peru is approximately twenty-eight million people, with roughly 72 percent of that number living in urban centers. Although much linguistic variation exists in the country, only Spanish and Quechua are considered official languages by the government. Estimates for 2004 indicate that 12.3 percent of the population over age fifteen is illiterate (CIA World Factbook 2007). Although 40 percent of the population is reported to live in extreme poverty, a number of Peruvian organizations and schools serve people with disabilities.

For an estimate of the deaf population of Peru, a 2007 government census reports approximately 330,000 people as having permanent hearing difflculties or limitations (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas e Informática 2009). Earlier, an officiai 1994 census reported 42,000 deaf people in Peru (Garcia Benavides 2007). Another estimate from the Ethnologue suggests a population of 1.4 million deaf people (Gordon 2009).

Previous Sociolinguistic and Sign Language Research

Sociolinguistic research provides an important perspective on the questions surrounding the identification and classification of languages. Language attitudes and perceptions of ethnolinguistic identity revealed by sociolinguistic research are often just as important as linguistic evidence in addressing the complex issues involved in identifying and distinguishing sign varieties as languages or dialects (WoIl, SuttonSpence, and Elton 2001). Studies of sociolinguistics and sign language variation can also contribute to and empower the local deaf communities in several ways as explained by Lucas et al.: recognition of sign languages as real languages, legitimization of sign languages, which can lead to more appropriate inclusion in educational policies; and the improvement of interpreting and vocational services (2002). This research framework, with its values and potential outcomes, motivate us in our research. With similarities to this study, Kyle and Allsop's sociolinguistic research of sign languages in Europe (1998), as well as research in Guatemala by Parks and Parks (2008), reveal insights into the social status of sign languages, patterns of use, and the various language attitudes of both deaf and hearing people.

A few researchers have begun investigating the linguistic classification of the sign language varieties of Peru, but at the time of this study there had been no in-depth research on the sociolinguistic situation of the sign language of Peru or deaf Peruvians' status in society. Names given to the sign language native to Peru include "Lenguaje de Señas Peruanas," "Lenguaje de Señas Peruano," and "Lengua de Signos Peruana." Each is abbreviated as "LSP," so this convention is used in the remainder of this article to refer to the sign varieties that deaf Peruvians call their own. The ISO 639-3 code for LSP is prl (SIL International 2009).

According to Farfan (1994), LSP is a blend of conventional and isolated signing. Deaf people from any place in the country can negotiate meaning from each other's signs, but there is no standardized form of the language. …

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