Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Variations in the Baghcheban Manual Alphabet in Iranian Sign Language

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Variations in the Baghcheban Manual Alphabet in Iranian Sign Language

Article excerpt

The term "manual alphabet" most commonly refers to systems that are representations of orthography used to articulate (fingerspell) the written forms of spoken languages (Sutton-Spence and Woll 2013). Although fingerspelling is distinct from signing, it serves a range of functions for signers. For instance, it is both a means of representing words that have no sign equivalents (e.g., place names, proper names) and a means of borrowing into sign language. Schembri and Johnston (2007) believe that a complex relationship exists between fingerspelling and signs .They note additional reasons for fingerspelling: lack of knowledge of a certain sign; absence of a certain sign in the interlocutors' active vocabulary; emphasis (when an equivalent sign exists; see Sutton-Spence and Woll 20i3),clarification of a specific meaning; uncertainty about whether the addressee knows a particular sign; demonstration of knowledge of English; and sometimes just a preference for fingerspelling in a certain context. Sutton-Spence and Woll (2013) add fingerspelling in pedagogical situations to indicate English morphology, which differs from that of British Sign Language (DSL) (e.g., i-s or i-n-g).

Fingerspelling is considered to be the third mode of communication based on a writing system (as a second mode), which is in turn based on spoken language as the first mode (Sutton-Spence 1994). This might explain why it is difficult to find a similar issue in spoken language that clarifies the connection between sign language and fingerspelling (Sutton-Spence and Woll 1993). In fact, the relationship between sign language and spoken/written language in the deaf and hearing communities has resulted in just such a tertiary channel of communication (Lucas and Valli 1992). "Tertiary," in this context, refers to contact signing. Both two-handed and one-handed manual alphabets exist for a number of orthographies.

In addition to manual alphabets, which represent orthography, other systems use hand configurations and locations to provide information about the articulation and phonetic characteristics of speech. As in a number of other such systems, BMA was originally invented to represent the sounds of speech (e.g., Duarte 2010); BMA was intended for use in teaching deaf people how to use their speech organs (articulatory system) to produce specific sounds. Then, for each sound, a handshape was created to represent the corresponding Persian alphabet letters. Although Baghcheban's main intention was to teach the sounds of the Persian alphabet to deaf people, he created nine handshapes (not based on sounds) for nine letters(e.g., s, z, ş, z, ţ, z, ', ģ, h) that were phonetically similar to six other letters (e.g., s and ş=s; t=t; z, z, and z=z; ' = '; g=q; h=h) but were different in shape in order to represent all of the letters of the Persian alphabet. This article discusses whether BMA remains a representation of speech or whether it has become a type of manual alphabet; I also consider the nine handshapes to determine whether they have undergone any important changes (even though were basically manual, not phonetic, creations). The latter finding would help prove whether or not the changes are systematically moving toward manualism.

Sociolinguistic Variations in Manual Alphabets

The effect of sociolinguistic variables (e.g., gender, age, region, social class, family background, education) on fingerspelling has been studied by several researchers. One such study (Sutton-Spence, Woll, and Allsopi99o) looked at both the influence of age, gender, region, and communication mode on the use of English fingerspelling (translation of English words) and the influence of BSL loan fingerspelling (complete lexicalization as a part of BSL). The researchers (ibid.) collected data from deaf signers and from interviews by the hosts of a BBC show; both synchronic and diachronic analyses were performed. The results did not indicate any significant difference between males and females. …

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