Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Sign Language Varieties in Lima, Peru

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Sign Language Varieties in Lima, Peru

Article excerpt

With many distinctive landscapes and native species, unique indigenous cultures, and even seventy-five endangered spoken languages (Catalogue of Endangered Languages 2015), Peru is known for its diversity. Yet, the Catalogue of Endangered Languages, Glottolog (Hammarström, Forkel, Haspelmath, and Bank 2015), Ethnologue (Lewis, Simons, and Fenning 2015), and the government of Peru itself (Vílchez Jiménez 2013) list only a single sign language for the entire nation. How could it be that, among so many different groups, only a single, nationwide "Peruvian Sign Language" could be announced with the passage of a law in 2010 (El Congreso de la República)? Are deaf education and deaf individuals in Peru so uniform that the entire national community is linguistically homogeneous? It is precisely this area that the current article seeks to investigate.

Very little has been written on the actual linguistic structure of Peruvian Sign Language (LSP). A detailed nationwide survey conducted by the Ministry of Education (Vílchez Jiménez 2013) and a sociolinguistic profile compiled by SIL (Parks and Parks 2010) thoroughly describe Peru's deaf population and assert that LSP is used by it. Passing comments in both studies indicate that some groups of signers have difficulty communicating with other groups. Parks and Parks classify this simply as "lack of standardization," and Vílchez Jiménez implies that groups who do not understand Lima-like signs do not know a sign language at all. Neither publication attempts to describe this variation or explain why certain groups do not understand each other.

According to information from several conversations with leaders of Deaf associations (Reynaldo Ramírez and Ricardo Robles, Lima, July 2014, June 2015; Sully Sandóval, Pucallpa, August 2014; Gori Gamarra, Ayacucho, July 2015), teachers (Ronald Peña, Lima, July 2014; Tito Vega, Iquitos, August 2014, June 2015), interpreters (Analy Vidal, Lima, July 2014; Isabel Rey, Lima, July 2014), and government officials (Dora Villanueva, Ministry of Education, June 2014; Genix Escudero, Regional Government of Loreto, July 2015), Spanish-LSP dictionaries are all that exist in terms of description. None of these discuss grammar, and they contain only direct translations from Spanish of materials such as hymns and everyday phrases. A certain form of signing used in Lima is the basis of all official materials, and there are no resources for LSP-Spanish translation.

As the field of sign linguistics grows, more and more research is finding that the frequent declaration of one sign language per country is simply false, just as it would be for spoken languages (Brito 1984; Woodward 1991, 2009; Nonaka 2004; Groce 2009). Determination of the intricacies of relationships between sign languages and the establishment of typological and historical families (as well as the methodology to conduct these studies) are still rather in their infancy (Woodward 2011). This article attempts to make a contribution to that end.

The main task here is to determine the degree of variation among sign language(s) used in Peru. Given the history of deaf education in Peru, and particularly in Lima, it is not at all unlikely that multiple groups of signers would have formed and created unique varieties. Different schools and organizations for deaf persons were established during the past eighty years by different authorities, and each exerted its own influence. These institutions have brought in signs from Spain and the United States, grouped students together to form signing communities, and helped to establish and spread a standardized Peruvian Sign Language (see the section on education).

The initial approach is to collect data for lexicostatistical analysis from signers in different regions. Because of the limited data available on the signed languages of the area, the comparative method is not yet a practical endeavor. However, lexicostatistics has been used to group underdescribed and unwritten Austronesian and Australian spoken languages (Woodward 2011), as well as establish relationships between certain sign languages (Woodward 1991, 1996, 2009; McKee and Kennedy 2000; Aldersson and McEntee-Atalianis 2008). …

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