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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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What's Your Sign for Pizza? An Introduction to Variation in American Sign Language

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Figure 8. The research sites

We tried to get even numbers of men and women, and we videotaped both working-class and middle-class people. For our study “working class” means that the participants had gone to a residential school but had not continued their education after that, had settled in the area of the school, and were working in blue-collar jobs. The “middle-class” group consisted of people who had continued on to college after completing the residential school, had maybe left the area, but, if so, had been back in the area for at least ten years and were working in white-collar jobs. The youngest signers, who were still in school, were grouped with their parents in determining their social class. Of the 207 people in the study, 45 were from deaf families. Figure 9 shows the project at a glance.

We collected examples of three variables from the videotapes: the sign deaf, which varies in its location; signs such as know, which also vary in their location; and signs made with a 1 handshape, which vary in many ways. We selected examples of these signs because they occur on the tapes frequently (and in everyday signing), and we knew that we would have enough examples of them for statistical analysis. From our observations of the videotapes we also knew that these signs varied a great deal, and we wanted to understand what was behind the variation.

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