Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Zaban Eshareh Irani (ZEI) and Its Fingerspelling System

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Zaban Eshareh Irani (ZEI) and Its Fingerspelling System

Article excerpt

Zaban Eshareh Irani (ZEI) is the signed language used by the Deaf community in Iran (Novak, Behmanesh, and Guity 2014) (figure 1). This sign language is also referred to as Persian Sign Language (Orton 2008) or Iranian Sign Language (Behmanesh 2006). It seems the preferred English translation by the Deaf Iranian community is Iranian Sign Language. In this article we use ZEI. Although it has been reported that about three million Deaf and hard of hearing people live in Iran (ZEI workshop 2015), the number of ZEI users is currently unknown. While ZEI exhibits characteristics found throughout the natural human languages of the world, the Iranian government does not currently recognize it as a language, a situation commonly found in many minority language contexts internationally (e.g., García 2009; Quer and Quadros 2015; Reagan 2010).

This article briefly describes the linguistic system of ZEI using data collected from three Deaf men dur ing a period of two semesters of graduate field methods classes at Gallaudet University. It is not traditional to publish findings from graduate courses in which the students observe and elicit data from native users of a language and culture in which they (the students) are not particularly well versed. However, the decision to proceed came from our consultants' desire to contribute to the discussion on the identity of the manual system used in ZEI to represent the spoken language of the region.

Currently some confusion exists in the Iranian Deaf community about what type of system this is. Is it an actual fingerspelling system or simply a technique derived from Cued Speech? In this article we suggest that, even though the manual alphabet used in ZEI may be somewhat similar to Cued Speech, it is evident that the alphabet currently in use is a separate system with its own history, functions, and usage. This alphabet has no conventional name within the Iranian Deaf community. For the purpose of this article, we refer to the system as the Baghcheban phonetic alphabet (horoof alefba guia Baghcheban).

Data Collection

The information presented here was compiled from interviews and discussions with three Deaf men from Iran by students enrolled in the graduate class "Field Methods" in the Department of Linguistics at Gallaudet University. This collaboration occurred over two academic semesters (fall of 2013 and spring of 2015).

Participants' and Authors' Positionalities

"Participants" are the consultants, elicitors, and observers of our elicitation sessions, while the term "positionalities" refers to the social roles affected by social and linguistic experiences. While working and researching within a linguistic minority community, it is especially important for everyone involved to adhere to appropriate research ethics within that environment (Harris, Holmes, and Mertens 2009). Issues of community relationships, cultural respect, and a clear understanding of the community's goals for the project must always be considered, especially if a researcher is not familiar with the community. The presence of any one person involved in the project can have an impact on the outcome (Labov 1972; Bell 1984). This is particularly true within marginalized communities. For this reason, it is important to provide brief descriptions of the positionalities of all of the participants who participated in this project in relation to the greater Iranian Deaf Community and ZEI.

Consultants. In the fall of 2013, the linguistics graduate students and instructor met with two Deaf ZEI users, Abbas Ali Behmanesh and Ardavan Guity. In the spr ing of 2015, a new class of linguistics graduate students and the same instructor met with Behmanesh, Guity, and Ali Sanjabi. Each semester, the consultants met with the class for ten sessions of approximately one hour each. All three of our consultants are originally from Tehran (the capital of Iran). At the time of data collection they had been in the United States for three years or more and considered themselves fluent (to varying degrees) in ZEI and ASL. …

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