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Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community

Joseph Christopher Hill

Publication Year: 2012

In a diverse signing community, it is not unusual to encounter a wide variety of expression in the types of signs used by different people. Perceptions of signing proficiency often vary within the community, however. Conventional wisdom intimates that those who learned at an early age at home or in school know true basic or standard American Sign Language. Those who learned ASL later in life or use contact or coded signs are considered to be less skillful Joseph Christopher Hill shows in Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community various contradictions in the use of signed languages. Hill’s new study explores the linguistic and social factors that govern such stereotypical perceptions of social groups about signing differences. Hill’s analysis focuses on affective, cognitive, and behavioral types of evaluative responses toward particular language varieties, such as ASL, contact signing, and Signed English. His work takes into account the perceptions of these signing types among the social groups of the American Deaf community that vary based on generation, age of acquisition, and race. He also gauges the effects of social information on these perceptions, and their evaluation and descriptions of signing that departs from their respective concept of a signing standard. Language Attitudes concludes that standard ASL’s value will continue to rise and the Deaf/Hearing cultural dichotomy will remain relevant without the occurrence of a dramatic cultural shift.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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pp. -1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xi

This volume is the culmination of a four-year research project designed to document language attitudes within the American Deaf community. It is also a milestone in my personal journey as a Deaf person to understand people’s perceptions of me based on my language skills and their views of a standard language, be it American Sign Language (ASL) or ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I thank my family for their unconditional love and support: my mother Etta Hill, my father George Hill, my sister Alta Marie Miller, my brother Anthony Hill, my siblings’ spouses, and my nieces and nephews. Since my move to DC, I do not see my family as often as I had when I was an undergraduate. I am the only one in the family who has gone beyond the ...

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Chapter 1 Language Attitudes

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pp. 1-19

... Majority or socially dominant languages or language varieties become the “standard” after years of use and acceptance by most members within a given society. These languages are normally favored over minority or socially subordinate languages or language varieties because of their association with social, economic, and educational privileges. This does not ...

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Chapter 2 The American Deaf Community

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pp. 20-41

... Deaf ASL signers are able to acquire the language, traditions, and social behaviors that are the common features of American Deaf culture, but the channels of language acquisition are largely different from those in the mainstream society. Whereas spoken languages are transmitted from generation to generation within families, most Deaf people acquire ...

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Chapter 3 Subjects and Signing Samples in the Study

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pp. 42-51

Subjects’ social characteristics (education, family, race, generation, and communication background) were taken into consideration, and the subjects were grouped into eight social groups on the basis of three social characteristics: generation (younger and older), race (Black and White), and age of ASL acquisition (native and nonnative). The purpose of grouping ...

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Chapter 4 Perceptions of Signing

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pp. 52-62

As described in Chapter 3, the first part of the study investigated perceptions of four signing types (Strong ASL, Mostly ASL, Mixed, and Non- ASL) by 74 subjects. The study methodology was based on Lucas and Valli’s contact signing study (1992), and subjects judged the signing in video clips as “ASL” or “Not ASL.” The relative frequencies of ASL and ...

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Chapter 5 Effect of Social Information on Perceptions

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pp. 63-71

The second part of the study explored effects of social information on the perception of signing types, using the same videos used in the first part. It is inspired by the methodology in Niedzielski’s study (1999) on the effect of social information on Michigan subjects’ perception of nonstandard vowels in a native Detroit speaker’s speech. Niedzielski used ...

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Chapter 6 Evaluation of Signing Types

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pp. 72-87

The third part of the study is the exploration the subjects’ perceptions of signing produced by the signers in the videos and the subjects’ evaluation based on their own signing perceptions regardless of the actual nature of signing seen in the videos. The signing types in this part of the study were determined by the subjects doing the evaluation and the signing ...

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Chapter 7 Description of Signing

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pp. 88-146

In the previous chapter, we showed how ASL was evaluated positively by most subjects on all language and social scales, whereas Signed English was evaluated negatively on some scales except for smoothness, education, and intelligence. Mixed signing received mixed evaluations from the subjects. Knowing that the forms and features of ASL elicited positive ...

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Chapter 8 Conclusion

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pp. 147-163

The research question that guided the study was this: What are the linguistic and social factors that govern attitudes toward signing variation in the American Deaf community? This question is important to consider because nowadays there are different viewpoints in the American Deaf community regarding the acceptance of signing forms and features that ...

Appendix A

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pp. 165-173

Appendix B

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pp. 174-189

Appendix C

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pp. 175-177


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pp. 178-185


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pp. 187-194

E-ISBN-13: 9781563685460
E-ISBN-10: 1563685469
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563685453
Print-ISBN-10: 1563685450

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 45 photos
Publication Year: 2012