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Volume Eleven: Issue Four

Summer 2011

ARTICLES
Old Signs, New Signs, Whose Signs? Sociolinguistic Variation in the NZSL Lexicon
Rachel McKee and David McKee

Abstract

The LIS Corpus Project: A Discussion of Sociolinguistic Variation in the Lexicon
Carlo Geraci, Katia Battaglia, Anna Cardinaletti, Carlo Cecchetto, Caterina Donati, Serena Giudice, and Emiliano Mereghetti

Pinky Extension as a Phonestheme in Mongolian Sign Language

Christina Healy

Abstract

Kinship in Mongolian Sign Language
Leah Geer

Abstract

Ideological Barriers to American Sign Language: Unpacking Linguistic Resistance
Timothy Reagan

Abstract

BOOK REVIEWS
Sign Language Acquisition, edited by Anne Baker and Bencie Woll
Deborah Chen Pichler

Hearing, Mother Father Deaf: Hearing People in Deaf Families, edited by Michele Bishop and Sherry L. Hicks

Mary Thumann
ABSTRACTS
Old Signs, New Signs, Whose Signs? Sociolinguistic Variation in the NZSL Lexicon

Although New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is used by a closely networked national Deaf community, it exhibits considerable variation in the lexicon that has been anecdotally and empirically attributed to age and region. This article reports a quantitative study that examined the effects of age, region, gender, and ethnicity on variation in eighty target vocabulary items, across 138 Deaf NZSL users. The dataset consisted of 11,040 tokens, in which 249 distinct variants for the 80 items were identified. Findings confirmed that age group is the strongest social correlate of lexical variation. Marked diachronic variation and change, shown by the “apparent-time” method of comparing age groups, reflects the impact of the adoption of Australasian Signed English in deaf education from 1979 in replacing and supplementing the earlier lexicon. A strong leveling effect found in the lexicon of younger signers is also attributable to their use of this sign system in education. Some regional effects found, and a pattern of interaction between region and age group—with southern and older signers tending to conserve early variants. Gender and ethnicity played a minimal role in explaining variation in this analysis. Given the salience of gender and ethnicity in sociolinguistic variation studies generally, this finding may be explained by the particular socio-historical profile of the NZSL community, or by the likelihood that these identity characteristics are indexed by sub-lexical features, and/or by the decontextualized data elicitation method, which may not capture the potential use of lexical variants that respond to audience, topic and style considerations in discourse contexts.

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Pinky Extension as a Phonestheme in Mongolian Sign Language

In Mongolian Sign Language, many signs with negative connotations are produced with a hand configuration in which the pinky is extended while the other fingers are flexed. This article describes the lexemes articulated with this hand configuration and gives their meanings, reviews morphological processes and phonetic symbolism, and argues that the hand configuration is a strong phonestheme. A less frequent tendency in the language is described, wherein the thumb appears to be associated with positive meaning as a weak phonestheme. Reviews of international perspectives on these two hand configurations indicate they are not universal. A possible origin of the evaluative implications is suggested by a hand game commonly played in Mongolia, in which each finger beats another finger, which may imply power or prestige toward the thumb and away from the pinky.

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Kinship in Mongolian Sign Language

The purpose of this investigation is twofold: I determine (1) what and how kinship terms are used in Mongolian Sign Language (MSL) and (2) to what extent other languages and cultural practices have influenced the kinship terms in MSL. Through a variety of methods, including spontaneous production, as well as direct and indirect elicitation, data were collected from three deaf signers studying at Gallaudet University. The data suggest that a basic kinship system exists and that it appears to be native to MSL. This system is lineal and elaborated only for the immediate family and grandparents. It unifies the terms for all collaterals (e.g., aunts, cousins). However, it appears that Mongolian Deaf people prefer another kinship system, one that has been created by the lexicalization of fingerspelled sequences for analogous Mongolian kinship terms. It appears, then, that the most significant influence on current MSL kinship terminology is the majority spoken language of Mongolia and not the surrounding signed languages. The data, along with general comments from the consultants about their kinship terms, suggest that the extension of the basic system could have arisen from the desire to dissimilate from MSL’s relationship to Russian Sign Language, which had a significant impact on MSL in earlier decades.

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Ideological Barriers to American Sign Language: Unpacking Linguistic Resistance

Although there have been significant advances in the status and use of ASL in the United States, there also have often been backlashes to such developments. The latter have typically been manifested in controversies over beliefs about the nature of ASL as a “real” or an “appropriate” language for study. This has been the case, for instance, in four particular areas: efforts to achieve official recognition of ASL, early identification of hearing impairment and ASL, the rise of ASL-English bilingual/bicultural education programs, and the teaching of ASL as a foreign language in educational institutions. In this article, the debate over the status of ASL is addressed as an example of ideological beliefs that impact linguistic judgments and policies. Also discussed are the major challenges to the status of ASL with respect to formal legislative recognition, its use as a medium of instruction, and its designation as a legitimate foreign language, all of which are both empirically and conceptually problematic. Further, it is suggested that the resistance to ASL is grounded in large part in a misunderstanding of the nature of human language and of the nature, structure, and history of natural sign languages in general and ASL in particular.

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