Bilingualism and Identity in Deaf Communities

Article excerpt

Bilingualism and Identity in Deaf Communities, ed. Melanie Metzger (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2000, 3 17 pp., casebound, $55.00)

MELANIE METZGER made the right choice when she began her Bilingualism and Identity in Deaf Communities with a chapter on New Zealand name signs. The chapter is interesting and easy to identify with. Everybody has a name. The subject easily leads the reader into the other ten chapters in this volume of Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, the sixth of a series of books published by Gallaudet University Press. Many who purchased the first collection years ago, Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, remember the initial impact that these chapters had on bringing about increased recognition to the American Deaf community and its sociolinguistic activities. If you have not kept up with the series, you may be surprised to find the diversity of topics in the first six volumes: Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities (Ceil Lucas, editor); Multicultural Aspects of Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities (Lucas); Deaf Children in Public Schoools (Claire Ramsey); Pinky iExtension and Eye Gaze; Language Use in Deaf Communities (Lucas); Storytelling and Conversation: Discourse in Deaf Communities (Elizabeth Winston); and this volume, edited by Metzger. The first five volumes provide excellent material for understanding the mores, values, and rationale behind many actions in deaf communities throughout the United States.

The volume under review provides a worldview of Deaf communities and offers contrasts and similarities of the cultural and linguistic behaviors of Deaf communities in various parts of the world. One opens the cover and realizes that the book indeed offers a global look at Deaf communities. And what an offer it is-Argentine semiotic aspects; education of Deaf children in Barcelona; New Zealand name signs; Mexican miracle cures; European Union minority language policy; Swedish tactile turn-taking; Nicaraguan search for roots; codeswitching between American Sign Language and cued speech, and more.

The first chapter, "Name Signs and Identity in New Zealand Sign Language" by Rachel Locker McKee and David McKee, begins this way: "Personal names in any culture are a potential gold mine of information about social relationships, identity, history, and linguistic processes." One might assume that all names are given in similar ways-the process is so natural. But the reader finds that name bestowing in New Zealand is sometimes quite different from the practice found in, say, the United States.

The authors videotaped 118 deaf people from two years to seventy years of age in three major regions of New Zealand. Since many informants had more than one name sign, the authors recorded a total of 223 name signs. Informants were asked to provide their legal name, age, the schools they attended, all the name signs they had had during their life, the date each one was acquired, and the etymology behind each name sign.

Seven distinct name sign categories in New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) were discovered. Several of them are similar to American naming practices, such as acquiring new names signs when a Deaf person moves to a different community or takes on a new role in relation to a group of signers. A couple of interesting differences were noted also.

In ASL descriptive name signs (those that make use of classifiers to identify a person's physical characteristics) are typically not ascribed to adults. Adult ASL users are more likely to have an arbitrary, initialized name sign than a descriptive one. In NZSL the opposite occurs. Fingerspelled initials are regarded as "a temporary and uninteresting measure, usually adopted only until a descriptive name sign evolves" (27). In fact, for deaf people over the age of fifty-one, no NZSL fmgerspelling in any of their names was found.

McKee and McKee found another interesting, age-related pattern. The oldest cohort (51 + years) has the highest number of name signs that are based on their spoken names. …

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