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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Signed Languages: Discoveries from International Research

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Part 5 addresses both pragmatics and sociolinguistics. One chapter focuses on sociolinguistic variation analysis, one on politeness, and one on language contact as well as language maintenance or death. Hoopes, Rose, Bayley, Lucas, Wulf, Petronio, and Collins analyze the theoretical and methodological issues that are related to signed language variation research. Three different studies are described: one focusing on lexical variation, one on phonological variation, and one on variation at all linguistic levels between visual and tactile ASL. The three studies are compared in terms of both methodological approach and findings and, therefore, provide a unique perspective regarding the sociolinguistic analysis of signed languages.

In a discussion of politeness in Venezuelan Sign Language, Pietrosemoli examines the systematic violations of politeness principles that occur when deaf people interact with the hearing, mainstream culture. In her application of Brown and Levinson’s model of politeness to examples of “false codeswitching” by deaf signers, Pietrosemoli brings together issues of language contact and interethnic communication.

As the Deaf community has grown together internationally, an increasing number of signed languages have come into contact. African countries, as have some other countries, have been besieged by ASL and some European signed languages, which have already received the attention of researchers. Consequently, the signed languages of these countries have a more prestigious linguistic status than are generally attributed to indigenous signed languages. In the chapter on Hausa Sign Language, Schmaling discusses some of the difficulties that confront researchers in Northern Nigeria (and other African countries) who face the challenge of distinguishing between the native signed languages and the influence on those native languages of signed languages that are foreign to that country. The findings of this study suggest that Hausa Sign Language, though subject to borrowing from ASL, is surviving as a distinct language.

The work of two poets is addressed in part 6. Taub provides an analysis of the conceptual metaphors used in an ASL poem by Ella Mae Lentz, “The Treasure,” demonstrating how one poet has used linguistic resources to blend linguistic and cultural metaphors to make artistic and dramatic statements about important issues. Sutton-Spence focuses on British Sign Language (BSL) poetry in her analysis of the work of Dorothy Miles. Through her analysis of Miles’s BSL poem “Trio,” Sutton-Spence finds that the BSL poetry incorporates features similar to those that have been found in British English poetry.

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