LINGUIST List 7.1110

Mon Aug 5 1996

Disc: Arabic sign language

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <dseelyemunix.emich.edu>


Directory

  1. "Carolyn L. Ostrander", Re: 7.1101, Disc: Arabic sign language
  2. Chris Miller, Re: 7.1101, Disc: Arabic sign language

Message 1: Re: 7.1101, Disc: Arabic sign language

Date: Fri, 02 Aug 1996 16:56:20 EDT
From: "Carolyn L. Ostrander" <clostranMailBox.Syr.Edu>
Subject: Re: 7.1101, Disc: Arabic sign language
On Fri, 2 Aug 1996, Soren Harder wrote:

> 
> Salem Ghazali (Salem.Ghazaliirsit.rnrt.tn) asked for help developing
> an "Arabic sign language".*snip*
> 
> The first thing you have to remember is that a sign language is 95%
> independent of the spoken language of the regions it is used, so
> please do not try to develop an _Arabic_ sign language. Aim for a
> Tunesian or North African instead.

CLO here
This is very true. - and critical. Sign languages differ in grammar and 
syntax from spoken ones in some important ways. 
> I believe there would be two ways to approach the problem.
> 
> 1) To 'give up'. To use one of the already standardized, existing
> (European or American or perhaps there exist some African) 

CLO here: Indeed, there are certainly many African signed languages, and 
I am betting that some of them exist in North Africa. If you can gain 
access to them, the obvious best possible solution is for the teachers of 
the deaf to learn from the native signers while the native signers learn 
to be teachers of the deaf.

> 2) Do it the hard way. Collect all the different 'home-languages' (as
> I believe they are called); if you are lucky some of them might be
> historically related, but propably they will have developed totally
> independent of each other, and thus not have anything important
> structurally in common (besides sign language universals).
> 
> The second of these options is the one you seem to have in mind, 

CLO here:
You then discussed a 3rd option:
>but
> perhaps you should consider whether it is worth the while to make a
> brand new artificial language.

CLO here: This is the most common response, and does not usually build as 
much on 
home signs as on spoken language. In fact, Judy Kegl has shown that, 
given enough young deaf people with contact with each other, legitimate 
sign languages develop spontaneously relatively quickly (See for instance 
her work in Nicaragua).

> It will only limit the communicative
> capabilities of the deaf community, as it will cut it off from signing
> language communities in the rest of the world, without tying it closer
> to the (Arabic-)speaking community. There are enough languages in the
> world. (This might sound very controversial; it shouldn't in this
> context).
> Soren Harder (student in computational linguistics and formal
> semantics)
CLO here:
This argument is not as logical as it sounds; learning ANY language 
as a first language is in fact less restrictive of communication than 
substantial delays which result in learning NO language during childhood. 
(See again Judy Kegl, and also Rachel Mayberry). I will provide proper 
citations within 48 hours, but want to put this information out as 
quickly as possible.

finally:
If communication with the Arab-speaking (or any speaking and literate) world 
is a grave concern, urge a bilingual education program which makes use of 
the Arabic Cued Speech tool to accurately display spoken Arabic phoneme 
by phoneme, while simultaneously providing a through grounding in the 
native sign language. Content can be taught in Sign Language, while 
literacy is taught through Cues.

Carolyn Ostrander clostransyr.edu
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Message 2: Re: 7.1101, Disc: Arabic sign language

Date: Fri, 02 Aug 1996 19:43:17 EDT
From: Chris Miller <d126244er.uqam.ca>
Subject: Re: 7.1101, Disc: Arabic sign language
The reply from So/ren Harder (sharderling.hum.aau.dk) to Salem Ghazali
(Salem.Ghazaliirsit.rnrt.tn) on the subject of developing an "Arabic
sign language" merits some comments, if only to clear up some
misconceptions.

I will take up Mr Harder's points one by one. 

> The first thing you have to remember is that a sign language is 95%
> independent of the spoken language of the regions it is used, so
> please do not try to develop an _Arabic_ sign language. Aim for a
> Tunesian or North African instead.

In the case of Tunisia, without any information as such, it is
impossible to say what the sign language situation is, other than the
reports mentioned by Mr Ghazali of isolated pockets of what may be
either local sign languages or home sign systems (on which more below).
Of course, a natural sign language is essentially independent of any
surrounding spoken language at all levels of its structure unless a
situation of contact and bilingualism has come about (e.g. schools, use
of a fingerspelling alphabet), in which case influence on the sign
language may range from lexical borrowing to the development of contact
varieties of the sign language similar in *some* respects to spoken
pidgins. As Mr Harder says, there is no necessary link between the
spoken and signed languages used in any locality since signed languages
are not representations of the spoken language (and attempts to impose
signed representations of spoken languages have almost without exception
failed miserably, being ill-adapted in their unilinear structure to the
space-based medium and the possibility for simultaneous encoding of
information that natural sign languages exploit so efficiently). 

Keeping in mind the caveat above, I will hazard a guess at what the
situation may be, based on what is known about other similar cases.
Given the population of Tunisia (over 8 million) and the fact it is
concentrated in a fairly small area in the north of the country, it is
almost certain that Deaf people, in major centres at least, have long
been meeting together and communicating among themselves. Whatever home
sign systems each deaf person may have developed in isolation within
their family, it is more than likely that a fairly stable language of
sorts has developed wherever there is a Deaf community. This may likely
be a pidgin, as was the case in Managua, Nicaragua in 1979 when
linguists first came into contact with the signing community, or as in
Bamako, Mali at present. 

It may even be the case that the varieties in use have undergone some
lexical influence from other sign language(s) due to contact with
foreign Deaf people or other signers who may have been to Tunisia. For
example, to take the case of Mali, there is a degree of influence from
American and French sign languages, as there also appears to be in
Guinea and some other African countries. Similarly, Nicaraguan Sign
Language appears to have borrowed to some extent from American Sign
Language, and Quebec Sign Language (apart from its clear origins in
American and French Sign Languages) has clearly drawn a (small) portion
of its vocabulary from British Sign Language, contact otherwise
undocumented. 

I would venture to say that it is highly *unlikely* that the Deaf of
Tunisia do not have any kind of common sign language where they are
sufficiently concentrated in number. 

Mr Harder proposes two possible approaches:

> 1) To 'give up'. To use one of the already standardized, existing
> (European or American or perhaps there exist some African) sign
> languages. Teach this to the deaf community in Tunesia, they will
> propably develop their own dialect of it.

As far as I know, *no* known natural sign language, not even the best
known and best described such as American, British or French SL, is
"standardized". SLs are at least as variable as any spoken language,
along both regional and other sociodemographic lines. Attempting to
teach one of these to Deaf Tunisians would in any case amount
essentially to transmitting foreign vocabulary since even in the best
described sign languages, probably as much remains unknown about their
structure as has become known over the past three decades of linguistic
research. 

I would not recommend teaching another sign language in any case, since
it is almost certain that native sign varieties, adequate to their
users' needs, already exist, and time can be better spent on more
pressing educational needs rather than in attempting to replace the
local sign varieties with foreign ones. As Deaf Tunisians mingle more,
it is probable that a common variety will develop by natural processes
of language change. In situations where foreign sign varieties were
imported into areas with significant sign language-using populations,
such as the importation of French Sign Language into New England in the
early 1800s and the arrival of two Deaf French teachers in Montreal in
the 1860s, the foreign variety clearly influenced, but did not replace
the local sign language. 

Mr Harder proposes as an alternative:

> 2) Do it the hard way. Collect all the different 'home-languages' (as
> I believe they are called); if you are lucky some of them might be
> historically related, but propably they will have developed totally
> independent of each other, and thus not have anything important
> structurally in common (besides sign language universals).

Home sign systems, by their nature, are isolated gestural communication
systems developed within the context of a single family and are thus not
related to each other in any conventional sense. As I have said above,
given the demographics of Tunisia, although there are probably numerous
deaf individuals who have nothing but a home sign system, it is most
likely that there exist local Deaf communities with common sign
languages (and these local varieties are probably fairly few in number). 

Rather than "collect" local varieties, the most fruitful (and least
paternalist) path to take would probably be to provide Tunisian Deaf
people with the means to take the development of their language in their
own hands. Support the development of a national Deaf organization: this
will provide the impetus for the development of a Deaf community at the
national level and a common sign language will develop naturally over
time with increased communication among Deaf individuals from different
regions of the country. 

There is, though, perhaps one limited way in which external influence
might be considered. If there currently exists no manual alphabet for
representing the written language, it could be worthwhile to provide
Deaf Tunisians with materials to determine a fingerspelling system (or
two) that they can use to represent written Arabic and/or French. Manual
alphabets are common around the world and besides the international
manual alphabet used to represent roman script and numerous other local
manual alphabets, varieties of a manual alphabet that represents Arabic
script are used in Egypt and Iran, according to the 1982 edition of
Simon Carmel's _Hand alphabet charts_ (published by the author). 

Mr Harder comments with regard o the two alternatives offered:

> The second of these options is the one you seem to have in mind, but
> perhaps you should consider whether it is worth the while to make a
> brand new artificial language. It will only limit the communicative
> capabilities of the deaf community, as it will cut it off from signing
> language communities in the rest of the world, without tying it closer
> to the (Arabic-)speaking community. There are enough languages in the
> world. (This might sound very controversial; it shouldn't in this
> context).

I would certainly hesitate, as I have said above, at attempting to
impose "standardization" from above. This would most likely engender
negative attitudes among Deaf Tunisians toward their own natural sign
language and would waste time and resources that could be put to better
use. Development of a common national sign language is something best
left to the members of the Deaf community themselves as a fortuitous
result of the strengthening of their community and the improvement of
their general lot. However, the fact that this would be a different sign
language from those used elsewhere should not be seen as a bad thing. No
harm has come to Deaf communities anywhere in the world because their
sign language is different from others. 

I hope that others with more direct experience in this sort of
situation, especially those involved in the Nicaragua project, can post
some further discussion on this topic to both the SLLING-L
<SLLING-Lyalevm.ycc.yale.edu> and Linguist <linguisttam2000.tamu.edu>
lists.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Christopher Miller 
PhD student in linguistics/Itudiant de 3e cycle en linguistique

d126244er.uqam.ca

Groupe de recherche sur la LSQ et le frangais sourd
Universiti du Quibec ` Montrial
C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-Ville
Montreal, Quebec H3C 3P8
Canada

+1 514 987-3000 extension/poste 6660 or/ou 4280 (voice/voix)
+1 514 987-3000 extension/poste 4079 (TTY)
+1 514 987-3000 extension/poste 4280 or 4652 (fax)
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