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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!

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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 The Sign Language Translator and Interpreter (SLTI)

Bilingualism and Identity is the sixth volume in the Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities series. The volume is edited by Metzger, who has also contributed to previous volumes. As Metzger states, the goal for volume six is to “include empirically-based work that is international in scope and extends our knowledge of the sociolinguistic issues in deaf communities by building on previous research or breaking new ground with preliminary studies” (p. xi). In the opinion of this reviewer, Metzger has successfully achieved her stated aim. The chapters highlight two recurring themes, the first of which is the perception of deaf people and deaf communities, by the wider community and by deaf people themselves. The second theme is that of bilingualism in deaf communities. This is a hotly debated topic today, mainly because the majority of deaf children have hearing parents, for whom the modelling of a sign language in the early years is fraught with difficulty.

Within the context of these two themes, the chapters are grouped into seven sub-themes, the first of these being language variation. McKee and McKee provide a detailed description of the seven types of name signs they found in the New Zealand Deaf Community. They define name signs as either externally motivated (unrelated to the spoken name of the person and more descriptive) or internally motivated. The latter include signs based on the English initials of the spoken name, a semantic translation of the spoken name (ANGEL from Angela), or a phonetic analogue where the sign looks similar to the name as it is pronounced on the lips (e.g. RABBIT for Robert, or BORING for Maureen). Their discussion of these name signs bears a striking similarity to the description of name signs in BSL (Sutton-Spence and Woll 1998:234). Two types that do not fit any other category are compound name signs (where each part of the name sign is of a different derivation) and generic name signs (those that originate as a sign for a specific person, but which are later generalized to other deaf persons with the same spoken first name). The acquisition methods and changes that occur with name signs are also explained. Since name signs are an indicator of identity and variation in Deaf culture, this chapter is an excellent opening to the perspectives outlined in the rest of the book.

Hauser’s analysis of code-switching is the first of two articles under the sub-theme of languages in contact. Unlike many other research projects that have focused on code-switching between a sign language and a spoken language. Hauser compares one informant’s use of American Sign Language (ASL) with her use of Cued English (another signed form of communication, rather than a spoken form). Hauser makes reference to code-switching research in spoken language fields as well as relevant research in sign linguistics. His discussion focuses on comparing the results from his ASL-Cued English bilingual with results from other spoken language informants, highlighting similarities in the sociolinguistic characteristics of both.

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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

$63.50s

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