LINGUIST List 13.1851

Thu Jul 4 2002

Review: The Sociolinguistics of Sign Langs,Lucas (2001)

Editor for this issue: Dina Kapetangianni <dinalinguistlist.org>


What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Simin Karimi at siminlinguistlist.org.

Directory

  1. Guido Oebel, Lucas Ceil (2001) The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages.

Message 1: Lucas Ceil (2001) The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages.

Date: Wed, 03 Jul 2002 12:49:49 +0000
From: Guido Oebel <Guido>
Subject: Lucas Ceil (2001) The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages.

Lucas Ceil (2001) The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages.
267 pp.,Hardback, 791375, $64.95, Paperback, 794749, $24.95

Book Announcement on Linguist:
http://linguistlist.org/get-book.html?BookID=2107 

Guido Oebel 

SYNOPSIS

Ceil Lucas: Introduction (pp 1-7).

Benice Woll et al.: Multilingualism -- The global approach to sign
languages (pp 8-32). This chapter provides an estimate of the number
of sign languages in existence (ranging from 4,000 to 20,000)
describing the diversity of Deaf communities using sign languages. The
different factors are outlined for considering the description of any
language in existence, thus showing why it is that difficult to
provide an exact description of the distribution of sign languages. As
these estimates might be based on either linguistic judgments about
lexical or structural similarities, or on social attitudes to the
languages many of the tools used for such studies derive from research
conducted on spoken language. Despite all efforts, it will probably
never be possible to reach a figure generally agreed upon for the
number of sign languages worldwide. Another aspect of this chapter
deals with the difficulties trying to describe the sign languages of
the world. Deaf people in communities in different parts of the world
use different sign languages. Furthermore, there are many deaf people
who either do not have contact with other deaf people or even are not
part of a Deaf community in any way. That is why they may develop
their own communication system with hearing people using their own,
however, very limited gestures, so-called home signs. 

Jean Ann: Bilingualism and language contact (pp 33-60). In this
chapter, Ann discusses several language contact phenomena in both
spoken language and sign language communities. According to her,
outcomes within the typology and distribution of bilingualism in both
communities are in general largely parallel in spoken language and
sign language situations. In the further course of the chapter the
creation of loan vocabulary is examined in two sorts of languages:
those with fingerspelling, and those without fingerspelling but with a
form of representing written language called character signs. The
so-called mouthing occurring in sign languages which is connected to
speech is another topic of discussion within this chapter. It
concludes presenting and investigating pidgins and creoles and their
relevance to sign language speech, as well as the phenomena of code
switching and code mixing. 

Ceil Lucas et al.: Sociolinguistic variation (pp 61-111). Lucas's
chapter on 'Sociolinguistic variation' supports findings proving true
the predictability that users of a language belonging to particular
social groups generally use more of one variant than users belonging
to other social groups, and that some variants appear more frequently
in certain linguistic environments than in others. Variation is
constrained by both social factors (e.g. class, age, gender,
ethnicity, educational level, region of origin) and linguistic
factors. In this regard, Lucas cites Labov's (1963) pioneering study
on Martha's Vineyard, which sought explanations for language change in
the local meanings ascribed to linguistic variables. Concerning
studies of linguistic variation, e.g. the apparent time construct has
made it possible to model ongoing change by examining the language of
people of different ages. The remainder of the chapter deals with
three studies on variation in sign languages: (1) Hoopes' study of
pinky extension/1998, (2) Collins and Pretonio's study of variation in
Tactile ASL/1998, (3) Lucas et al's study of variation in the form of
the sign DEAF/2001, reflecting changing perspectives on sign language
structure and use. Lucas concludes that the variation observed in all
human languages, be they spoken or signed, is for the most part
systematic. While many social factors that condition variation are the
same for spoken and sign languages, there are some other factors, such
as language use in the home, that are unique to sign language
variation. Despite the many similarities between the variable units
and processes in spoken and sign languages, fundamental differences
between the respective structures due to the context of deaf education
are reflected in variation. 

Melanie Metzger / Ben Bahan: Discourse analysis (pp
112-144). According to Metzger and Bahan, discourse analyses of sign
languages make clear the necessity for examination of sign language
discourse at levels above the sentence, for the improved understanding
of sign language structure as well as for the understanding of
language in general. Sociolinguistic research by discourse analysts
about visual languages and the deaf communities using them is
increasing worldwide. The two co-authors of this chapter are quite
confident that it is likely the analysis of signed discourse will
contribute immensely in future to the understanding of both sign
languages and language in general.

Timothy Reagan: Language planning and policy (pp 145-180). Reagan
discusses both the positive and negative effects of language planning
and language policies for spoken languages and sign
languages. According to Reagan creators and advocates of manual sign
codes may have been sincere in their efforts to help deaf
children. They, however, also failed to take into account the
complexity of the issue surrounding the language rights of the deaf,
and to recognize that both of the communities to which the language
planning activities are directed must be involved in that language
planning activity. Reagan claims language planning efforts have to
entail the active involvement and participation of those for whom they
are intended for only when emerging in such a context language
planning efforts can contribute to 'the creation of more just, humane
and legitimate social and educational policies'. Quoting James
Tollefson as saying 'the foundation for rights is power and (...)
constant struggle is necessary to sustain language rights' (1991: 167)
Reagan emphasizes that this is true in the case of sign languages as
well as for other languages.

Sarah Burns et al.: Language attitudes (pp 181-215). This chapter
deals with exploring the nature of language attitudes and how they
have been studied so far. According to the co-authors, it is clear
that there is a great need for further empirical research into
attitudes toward sign languages and their users, and the consequences
of these attitudes. According to Burns, innovative methods of
collecting and analyzing data addressing the factors that have
coloured results in the past need to be developed. As at the beginning
of the 21st century society is changing at an unprecedented pace it
remains to be seen what impact these changes and technological
advancements will have on attitudes toward sign languages and their
users worldwide.

Bibliography (pp 217-248).

CRITICAL EVALUATION

'The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages' is an accessible introduction
to the major areas of sociolinguistics related to sign languages and
Deaf communities. Clearly organized, its contributing authors survey
the field covering topics such as variation, bilingualism,
multilingualism, language attitudes, discourse analysis, language
policy and planning. The essays deal with both macro-variables related
to broader situations external to the community and micro-variables
focusing on specific factors affecting particular language events and
interactions. The book examines how sign languages are distributed
worldwide, what occurs when they come in contact with spoken and
written languages and how signers use them within different
situations. Each chapter introduces the key issues in each area of
inquiry and provides a comprehensive review of the relevant
literature. Furthermore, at the end of each chapter further reading is
suggested and helpful exercises are offered, concluding with 31 pages
of an extensive and comprehensive bibliography. In my opinion, this
volume enriches the general study of sociolinguistics as well as
informs the specific study of sign languages in their social
context. According to the editor, the outstanding book's readership is
to be recruited from students in deaf studies, linguistics, and
interpreter training, as well as spoken language researchers, and
researchers and teachers of sign language.

REFERENCES 

Collins, S. and K. Pretonio (1998) What happens in Tactile ASL? In
C. Lucas (ed.), Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, Vol. 4: Pinky
Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities. Washington,
DC: Gallaudet University Press, 18-37. Hoopes, R. (1998) A
preliminary examination of pinky extension: Suggestions regarding its
occurrence, constraints and function. In C. Lucas (ed.),
Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, Vol. 4: Pinky Extension and Eye
Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities. Washington, DC: Gallaudet
University Press, 3-17. Labov, W. (1963) The social motivation of a
sound change. In Word 19, 273-307. Lucas, C., et al. (in press)
Location variation in American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies.
Tollefson, J. (1991) Planning Language, Planning Inequality: Language
Policy in the Community. London: Longman.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 

Guido Oebel has a PhD degree in linguistics, is a native German and is
currently employed as an associate professor with Saga National
University and as a visiting professor with Private University of
Kurume, both situated on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan. His
main areas of research are: FLL, particularly German as a Foreign
Language (DaF), sociolinguistics, bilingualism, and adult education.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue