Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Sampling Shared Sign Languages

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Sampling Shared Sign Languages

Article excerpt

Whether stated or implied, the emergence of sign languages is often assumed to be directly linked to the establishment of formal deaf education and other cultural environments in which deaf individuals congregate. For the past ten years, more attention has been given to the emergence of signing varieties in both rural and urban areas that demonstrate a high incidence of deafness and where both deaf and hearing community members form social networks that use visual-gestural forms of communication (Nyst 2012). This latter sociolinguistic category of sign language, as used by both deaf and hearing community members, is known as a shared sign language. Shared signing communities vary with respect to social factors such as the causes and incidence of deafness, community size, the ratio of deaf and hearing signers, time depth, and the sociocultural construction of deafness (Kisch 2008; Küsters 2010). The linguistic and anthropological documentation and descriptions of shared signing communities are still in their initial stages (Zeshan and de Vos 2012). Nevertheless, initial analyses of these signing varieties suggest that, as linguistic isolates, they contribute considerably to our understanding of typological variation among sign languages (see de Vos and Pfau 2015 for an overview).

Comparative studies have also reported a number of common features among shared sign languages that have not been attested in previously documented urban sign languages. Such characteristics are mostly related to the way in which signing space is inscribed with conventional meaning and include a significant enlargement of the articulatory signing space (Kendon 1980; Nyst 2007; Marsaja 2008; de Vos, Sign Spatiality in Kata Kolok, 2012), the canonical use of geographical pointing signs for third-person reference (as opposed to pronominal pointing forms) (Washabaugh 1986, 36), the existence of a celestial timeline (Nyst 2007; de Vos 2012, Sign Spatiality in Kata Kolok; Le Guen 2012), and, most prominently, a significantly reduced use (and even the absence) of spatial verb agreement (Sandler et al. 2005; Marsaja 2008, 162; Nyst 2007; Schuit, Baker, and Pfau 2011; de Vos 2012, Sign Spatiality in Kata Kolok).

Perhaps more controversial is the potential impact of the large proportion of hearing signers on these sign languages. On the lexical level, limited conceptual overlap has been reported between Kata Kolok and its surrounding spoken languages (de Vos 2011). Similarly, spoken Balinese and Kata Kolok vary on core typological features such as constituent order and verb morphology (ibid.). With respect to Adamorobe Sign Language, however, its large number of L2 hearing signers has led to the use of phonologically lax forms Nyst (2007). In this language, mouthings linked to spoken Akan are also attested, whereas such contact-induced phenomena are virtually absent in Kata Kolok discourse.

A number of studies have hypothesized that shared sign languages exhibit these peculiar structures because of their unusual social settings. That is to say, the social dynamics among shared signing communities, such as comparatively limited time depth (Sandler et al. 2005), dense social networks (Washabaugh, Woodward, and DeSantis 1978; de Vos 2012, Sign Spatiality in Kata Kolok), and a large portion of second-language users (Nyst 2012) may underlie the processes that have led to these structural commonalities and differences. If so, synchronic variation in these communities may reflect such processes. Therefore, this article argues that, to test these hypotheses, corpora of shared sign languages should be sampled strategically to reflect the linguistic variation attested in them. As such, this work not only follows in the footsteps of other recently created sign language corpora but also considers aspects of corpus creation that may be uniquely associated with shared signing communities (e.g., Crasborn, Zwitserlood and Ros 2008; Johnston 2010).

This article focuses on a rural signing variety that is indigenous to a village community in Bali: Kata Kolok. …

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