What's Your Sign for Pizza?
An Introduction to Variation in American Sign Language
also important. The contact-cheek form of deaf occurs more frequently when the next sign is at the ear or above or at the chin or below, but not when the following sign is on the cheek. Charts 1 and 2 contain a quick summary of our findings:
We had expected to find that the location of the preceding and following signs plays a big role in the variation of deaf, but, surprisingly, the grammatical function of deaf itself turns out to have the most influence. For the social factors, we found that deaf also exhibits sociolinguistic patterning, but only age and region appear to be important. Other factors such as ethnicity, gender, language background, and social class are not significant. Age and region have a complicated relationship. For example, the Boston signers in general use the ear-to-chin form more often than the chin-to-ear or contact-cheek forms, and the older signers are more likely to use ear-to-chin than the middle aged or young signers. In Maryland we see the opposite: The youngest signers are most likely to use the ear-to-chin form. In Virginia, California, and Washington state, the younger signers tend to use the chin-to-ear and contact-cheek forms. In California, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, the middle-aged group consistently tends to use the ear-to-chin forms more often than the oldest and youngest signers in these areas. We think that this may be because the signers in the middle group were in school at the time when ASL was beginning to be recognized as a real language and when linguists were starting to do research on ASL and other sign languages. These signers may have a heightened awareness of what is considered the “correct” form (ear-to-chin) and thus use it more.
Chart 1. Linguistic Influences on the Choice of a Form
Chart 2. Linguistic Influences on the Choice of a Form