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American Annals of the Deaf

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Many Ways to Be Deaf: International Variation in Deaf Communities

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Although I had come to Taiwan in search of CSL, these circumstances suggested that I would need to change my research focus to TSL. In principle, the CSL signers at Chiying were willing to help me locate other CSL signers, but they conceded that the endeavor would be difficult. They told me that the few CSL signers in close proximity were older deaf people or people unaccustomed to and uninterested in the idea that they could serve as linguistic consultants for research on their language. Some of the Chiying CSL signers were willing in spirit but, for various reasons, not able to serve as consultants for my research themselves. In the end, I did not push my original agenda of finding CSL signers, which seemed to be a great relief to the Chiying CSL signers. In contrast, the Chiying TSL signers were noticeably interested in and, perhaps, a bit bemused by the idea that I would ask them to serve as linguistic consultants.

Taiwan’s Linguistic Variation

Given the long tradition, indeed historical bias, of geographic region named as a major marker of linguistic variation (Wardhaugh 1992), it is not surprising that the literature reports two dialects of TSL, one centered around the school in Taipei and one centered around the school in Tainan. The literature contains little direct evidence to support this claim; the differences between the two dialects are reported to be lexical (Smith 1989, 1, Chao, Chu, and Liu 1988, 9–10). However, given the historical facts, we might expect to find morphological and syntactic differences between Chiying TSL and Taipei/Tainan TSL. In fact, there is some evidence that this is the case.

Smith’s work on TSL is based on data he gathered largely from Taipei signers, with a few from Tainan (Wayne Smith, 1991, personal communication). My work is based on data I gathered at the Chiying School. I can report two pieces of evidence that suggest that Chiying signers use a slightly different system than the Taipei/Tainan signers Smith describes. First, Smith explains that the Taipei/Tainan signers have agreement verbs that mark gender of subject or object and number of subject or object (1989, 1990). Consider the following examples. In Figure 12.1, the extended pinky on the weak hand serves as the object of the verb TELL. TELL is articulated with the strong hand. Figure 12.2 shows how the idea “tell the two of them” would be expressed. In Figure 12.2, the weak hand assumes the handshape for the number two, while the strong hand articulates the verb TELL.


Figure 12.1. TELL HER (Smith 1989, 175)


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