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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Bilingualism and Identity in
Deaf Communities

Melanie Metzger, Editor

Now in Paperback!

Read chapter one.
Read reviews: Studies in Second Language Acquisition, APA Review of Books, The Sign Language Translator and Interpreter (SLTI).


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The Sixth Volume in the Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities Series

From APA Review of Books, cont’d.

Many of the issues presented have been widely discussed elsewhere in the literature of various related disciplines; however, their investigation within the specific context of the deaf culture is both timely and important. The examination of these issues from new perspectives sheds insights not only into the behavior of deaf individuals and their use of dual or multiple language codes (whether oral language, signing, or other forms of linguistic and systematic communication systems), but for all speakers in all societies.

The uneven development of research in each area points not only to differences in the advancement of knowledge across disciplines but also to the need for researchers to consult literature beyond their own field of endeavor. In this work, several concepts and applications already widespread in mainstream education seem to be late in coming to those working in deaf communities, further signaling the series’ importance in establishing bridges across disciplines. Bridges, of course, reach out in two directions and span both. Here, advances in research of marked populations inevitably provide insights for unmarked populations as well, completing the span. A good example of this is work done by Glenn Doman, founder of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, who explored effective ways to teach learning-disabled children to read. His investigations eventually resulted in identifying powerful strategies that are now widely known and used to enhance the reading potential of all children, with a disability or not.

In addition to the similarities shared by marked and unmarked groups, it is also interesting to note any distinctive contrasts that emerge from research specific to deaf individuals and communities. McKee and McKee, for example, in their article on New Zealand sign language, describe the tendency of deaf signers to create descriptive name signs for others based on the physical or behavioral characteristics of their interlocutors (e.g., “pointy-nose, pop-eyes, and pot-belly,” among others, pp. 13-14). This behavior contrasts with recent efforts by hearing speakers in some societies to avoid reference precisely to these same characterizations to comply with evolving politically correct norms. A later article by Hauser analyzes the code-switching patterns of a user of American Sign Language (ASL) and cued American English. Although the author acknowledges many previous studies of code switching across spoken languages and others that contrast ALS and English, here he investigates patterns between English in a visual modality (i.e., cued English) and ASL, with results that are unique to the deaf individual (p. 43). In a third example, whereas the study of “languages in contact” clearly contributes to an understanding of how deaf individuals communicate with each other across alternative systems, it is equally instructive to learn how deaf individuals communicate and accommodate to hearing speakers in a wider society.

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Melanie Metzger is Professor and Chair, Department of Interpretation, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-56368-589-7, ISSN 1080-5494, 6 x 9 paperback, 320 pages, references, index


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