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17:4 Thursday, April 30, 2015

Another Martha’s Vineyard

An Anthropologist Studies a Shared Signing Community in West Africa

In Deaf Space in Adamorobe: An Ethnographic Study in a Village in Ghana, author Annelies Kusters reveals how deaf people in Adamorobe do not live in a social paradise and how they create their own “Deaf space” by seeking each other out to form a society of their own. But what’s so special about Adamorobe, and why did Kusters choose this place to do research?

When Deaf people ask these questions, Kusters usually replies, “You know Martha’s Vineyard, right? The place where a relatively large number of deaf people were born and many hearing people knew sign? You know that this situation has vanished now? But did you know that there are actually similar communities around the world? Well, one of these is located in Ghana and called Adamorobe.” Kusters is quick to point out, however, that she was not in search of a “deaf dreamworld” or a “utopian place.” “What brought me there were master’s degrees in both anthropology and Deaf studies, and a personal and scientific interest in the many different ways in which deaf people lead their lives in different sociocultural contexts.”

“This book,” she clarifies, “thus comprises my representation of my observations and the conversations during my visit in Adamorobe, not a representation of Adamorobe deaf people’s everyday life. My position as a (deaf) outsider with a background in Deaf studies and anthropology was important in that I asked (often unexpected) questions and stimulated my interlocutors to elaborate on certain themes, to tell me certain stories. We revisited the same themes over and over again and a (highly ambiguous) picture started to emerge. In this book, I am presenting quotes, situation descriptions, and transcripts of dialogues to illustrate and evoke what I saw and what we discussed; but again, these are the interpretations and translations of an outsider with a necessarily limited understanding of local culture, kinship structures, history, and language. Also, since this research happened during a particular moment in time (2008–2009), deaf people in Adamorobe might tell other stories and lay different emphasis in their present discourses.”

Read more in chapter one, “A Deaf Anthropologist’s Journey.” Order Deaf Space in Adamorobe today and receive a special savings of 20% off the regular price. For online orders, type “APR2015” in the box labeled “use promo code.” Or, order by mail.


In honor of Deaf History Month (March 13–April 15), the staff of Appleton Public Library in Appleton, WI, recognized The Gallaudet  Children’s Dictionary of American Sign Language as a “wonderful addition to the Sign Language section of the library’s World Languages collection.” The review notes that the “beautiful and comprehensive Gallaudet Children’s Dictionary of American Sign Language [has] more than 1,000 signs depicted in easy-to-read illustrations, and a companion DVD, which features live-action video of a variety of people, young and old, demonstrating the signs and using them in a sentence context. [G]reat for deaf kids who want to expand their ASL vocabulary, or hearing kids who wish to learn the language.” Order your copy of The Gallaudet  Children’s Dictionary of American Sign Language today by mail or online.


“[T]here is no denying that [Joseph Christopher] Hill’s research is vital and sorely lacking in modern ASL research,” observes a reviewer for the journal Sign Language & Linguistics. “Often, sign language research focuses only on language exposure when dividing up the signing population. Finding a sufficient number of participants who are native signers is difficult enough, and therefore creating smaller, sub-populations by using factors such as race and generation is often ignored for the sake of larger analysis groups. However, ignoring the effects of race and generation on sign productions means that the conclusions from many studies on sign language structure and use cannot always be generalized over the entire signing population. Hill’s work brings diverse deaf populations to the surface and reminds sign language researchers that intersectionalities cannot be wholly ignored.” Read more about Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community, and order it online or by mail.


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