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Review of  The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages

Reviewer: Guido Josef Oebel
Book Title: The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages
Book Author: Ceil Lucas
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Language Family(ies): Sign Language
Issue Number: 13.1851

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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

Bibliography (pp 217-248).
'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.
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.

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