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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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To the Lexicon and Beyond: Sociolinguistics in European Deaf Communities

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All of the interviewees could sign and had not the slightest qualms about signing. When asked, for instance, whether they had ever been embarrassed to use sign language or felt prevented from signing, interviewees commented as follows:

Never! I am open, and I donít care what others think about it. If they make fun of us I will tell them off! (male, twenty-four, language with hearing oral, with Deaf signing)

I ignore what other people think of us. I just carry on signing away. . . . It is okay with me. (female, twenty-one, BSL)

Never! I am proud of it. (female, twenty, with Deaf BSL, hearing SSE and oral, but likes all)9

Never! Never! (male, twenty-four, BSL)

I have never been stopped using sign language. It is my language. I am Deaf and it is my language. . . . Put my hands down and I canít do this! I will continue using sign language. It is my language. (female, twenty-two, speak)10

Despite some views apparently staunchly in favor of signing and no evidence that some situations were considered in principle ďoff limitsĒ for signed interaction, interviewees nevertheless expressed considerable openness to making communicative adjustments in interaction. Some of this flexibility is overtly recorded, too, in their descriptions of their linguistic identities.

Some interviewees explicitly marked signing and speaking situations, with the Deaf or hearing nature of the interlocutors seen as the deciding factor:

If my Deaf friend is with me, then I sign to help her follow the conversation, but if itís with a hearing person then I talk. (female, twenty-seven, sign language user)

Interviewer: Did you have an interview for entry to your work experience?
Interviewee: Yes.
Interviewer: How did you communicate with the panel at the interview?
Interviewee: Signing.
Interviewer: Were you happy with this?
Interviewee: Yes.
Interviewer: Why?
Interviewee: Probably because there was a deaf person there. (female, twenty-seven, mainly nonsigning)

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