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Orange Eyes: Bimodal Bilingualism in Hearing Adults from Deaf Families

Different aspects of bilingualism have been studied all over the world, and the studies have looked at a wide range of topics in spoken- language bilinguals such as patterns of code switching, the role of code switching in community life, the success or failure of bilingual education, second-language learning and gender, as well as many other issues focusing on single-modality bilinguals. These studies are often not applicable to studies of bimodal bilingualism, in which the subjects know a sign language from birth and the spoken language of the larger, hearing society. The study of bilingualism in hearing people from deaf families offers an opportunity to analyze the way that native users of both a signed and a spoken language combine aspects of both languages simultaneously (code blending). The lower status of American Sign Language (ASL) in relation to English may also contribute to how bimodal bilinguals view and use their languages. Unlike spoken-language bilinguals, who must stop one language before beginning another, a bimodal bilingual is able to speak and sign at the same time. This linguistic capability informs and expands the field of bilingualism as well as areas such as discourse analysis and the role of code blending as a cultural identifier. This preliminary research focuses on emails taken from a forum on the Internet for hearing people with deaf parents. Two hundred and seventy five lines from one hundred emails were collected and analyzed. The study shows evidence of strong grammatical influence from ASL in these emails (an absence of overt subjects, overt objects, determiners, copulas, and prepositions) as well as unique structures (nonstandard verb inflections, overgeneralization of the letters, and syntactic calquing). There is also a strong tendency to use English to “describe” an ASL sign (i.e., “My father fork-in-throat”). The meaning of the sign fork-in-throat is “stuck,” but the bilingual chooses to use the visual description of the sign instead of the lexical equivalent in English (note the absence of the copula). The overall results of this analysis are compared to Internet Relay Chat and TDD writings.