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Personal Experience Narratives in American Sign Language
Personal narratives are one way people code their experiences and convey them to others. Given that speakers can simultaneously express information and define a social situation, analyzing how and why people structure the telling of personal narratives can provide insight into the social dimensions of language use. In Extraordinary from the Ordinary: Personal Experience Narratives in American Sign Language, Kristin Jean Mulrooney shows that accounts by Deaf persons expressed in ASL possess the same characteristics and perform the same function as oral personal narratives. Mulrooney analyzes 12 personal narratives by ASL signers to determine how they “tell” their stories. She examines the ASL form of textual narration to see how signers use lexical signs to grammatically encode information, and how they also convey perceived narration. In perceived narration, the presenter depicts a past occurrence in the immediate environment that allows the audience to partially witness and interpret the event. Mulrooney determined that ASL narratives reveal a patterned structure consisting of an introduction, a main events section for identifying and describing past occurrences, and a conclusion. They also can include background information, an explication section in which the presenter expands or clarifies an event, and a section that allows the presenter to explain his or her feelings about what happened. Liberally illustrated with photographs from videotaped narratives, Extraordinary from the Ordinary offers an engrossing, expansive view of personal narratives embodying the unique linguistic elements of ASL.
Memories of World War II and Afterward
“She’s got no more business there than a pig has with a Bible.” That’s what her father said when Mary Herring announced that she would be moving to Washington, DC, in late 1942. Recently graduated from the North Carolina School for Black Deaf and Blind Students, Mary had been invited to the nation’s capital by a cousin to see a specialist about her hearing loss. Though nothing could be done about her deafness, Mary quickly proved her father wrong by passing the civil service examination with high marks. Far from Home: Memories of World War II and Afterward, the second installment of her autobiography, describes her life from her move to Washington to the present. Mary soon became a valued employee for the Navy, maintaining rosters for the many servicemen in war theaters worldwide. Her remarkable gift for detail depicts Washington in meticulous layers, a sleepy Southern town force-grown into a dynamic geopolitical hub. Life as a young woman amid the capital’s Black middle class could be warm and fun, filled with visits from family and friends, and trips home to Iron Mine for tearful, joyous reunions. But the reality of the times was never far off. On many an idyllic afternoon, she and her friends found somber peace in Arlington Cemetery, next to the grave of the sole Unknown Soldier at that time. During an evening spent at the U.S.O., one hearing woman asked how people like her could dance, and Mary answered, “With our feet.” She became a pen pal to several young servicemen, but did not want to know why some of them suddenly stopped writing.
The meaning of any linguistic expression resides not only in the words, but also in the ways that those words are conveyed. In her new study, Miako N. P. Rankin highlights the crucial interrelatedness of form and meaning at all levels in order to consider specific types of American Sign Language (ASL) expression. In particular, Form, Meaning, and Focus in American Sign Language, Miako N. P. Rankin considers how ASL non-agent focus, similar to the meaning of passive voice in English. Rankin’s analyses of the form-meaning correspondences of ASL expressions of non-agent focus reveals an underlying pattern that can be traced across sentence and verb types. This pattern produces meanings with various levels of focus on the agent. Rankin has determined in her meticulous study that the pattern of form-meaning characteristic of non-agent focus in ASL is used prolifically in day-to-day language. The recognition of the frequency of this pattern holds implications regarding the acquisition of ASL, the development of curricula for teaching ASL, and the analysis of ASL discourse in effective interpretation.
The Taiwanese Example
In the growing body of research on sign language linguistics, one area of inquiry considers an important component of all sign languages — handshapes — and whether the use of specific kinds increase in direct relation to the ease of their formation. Author Jean Ann provides significant clarification in her book Frequency of Occurrence and Ease of Articulation of Sign Language Handshapes: The Taiwanese Example. Ann employs a straightforward methodology in her examination of the use of Taiwan Sign Language (TSL) handshapes in five succinct chapters. In the first chapter, she discusses the two approaches linguists have taken toward understanding languages, and how these theories have influenced sign language researchers’ consideration of the ease of articulation and frequency of handshapes. In her second chapter, Ann delineates the physiology of hands and explains why certain digits move with greater dexterity than others. Ann applies this physiological information in the third chapter to construct a model for determining the ease of articulation of any logically possible handshape. She divides the handshapes into three categories, ranging from impossible to easy. In the fourth chapter, she applies her model to examine the patterns of TSL, first by describing the 56 handshapes identified in TSL, then determining how often each is used. She then compares the usage data to the handshapes’ ease of formation. The final chapter summarizes her findings and suggests implications of this work that are bound to generate further speculation and study on sign language handshapes in the future.
Growing Up Deaf in the Old South
The antebellum South’s economic dependence on slavery engendered a rigid social order in which a small number of privileged white men dominated African Americans, poor whites, women, and many people with disabilities. From Pity to Pride examines the experiences of a group of wealthy young men raised in the old South who also would have ruled over this closely regimented world had they not been deaf. Instead, the promise of status was gone, replaced by pity, as described by one deaf scion, “I sometimes fancy some people to treat me as they would a child to whom they were kind.” In this unique and fascinating history, Hannah Joyner depicts in striking detail the circumstances of these so-called victims of a terrible “misfortune.” Joyner makes clear that Deaf people in the North also endured prejudice. She also explains how the cultural rhetoric of paternalism and dependency in the South codified a stringent system of oppression and hierarchy that left little room for self-determination for Deaf southerners. From Pity to Pride reveals how some of these elite Deaf people rejected their family’s and society’s belief that being deaf was a permanent liability. Rather, they viewed themselves as competent and complete. As they came to adulthood, they joined together with other Deaf Americans, both southern and northern, to form communities of understanding, self-worth, and independence.
New Research on Interpretation
This new collection examines several facets of signed language interpreting. Claudia Angelelli’s study confirms that conference, courtroom, and medical interpretation can no longer be seen as a two-party conversation with an “invisible” interpreter, but as a three-party conversation in which the interpreter plays an active role. Laura M. Sanheim defines different turn-taking elements in a medical setting as two overlapping conversations, one between the patient and the interpreter and the other between the interpreter and the medical professional. In her analysis of discourse at a Deaf revival service, Mary Ann Richey demonstrates how Deaf presenters and audiences interact even in formal settings, creating special challenges for interpreters. Jemina Napier shares her findings on the nature and occurrence of omissions by interpreters in Australian Sign Language and English exchanges. Elizabeth Winston and Christine Monikowski describe different strategies used by interpreters to indicate topic shifts when interpreting into American Sign Language and when transliterating. The study concludes with Bruce Sofinski’s analysis of nonmanual elements used by interpreters in sign language transliteration.
The Third Ear in Experimental, Deaf, and Multicultural Theater
Gaillard crossed the Atlantic only a few weeks after the United States entered World War I. In his writings, he reports the efforts of American deaf leaders to secure employment for deaf workers to support the war effort. He also witnesses spirited speeches at the National Association of the Deaf convention decrying the replacement of sign language by oral education. Gaillard also depicts the many local institutions established by deaf Americans, such as Philadelphia’s All Souls Church, founded in 1888 by the country’s first ordained deaf pastor, and the many deaf clubs established by the first wave of deaf college graduates in their communities. His journal stands as a unique chronicle of the American Deaf community during a remarkable era of transition.
Hearing People in Deaf Families
The newest entry in the Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities series explores the richness and complexity of the lives of hearing people in deaf families. Along with their own contributions, volume editors Michele Bishop and Sherry L. Hicks present the work of an extraordinary cadre of deaf, hearing, and Coda (children of deaf adults) researchers: Susan Adams, Jean Andrews, Oya Ataman, Anne E. Baker, Beppie van den Bogaerde, Helsa B. Borinstein, Karen Emmorey, Tamar H. Gollan, Mara Lúcia Masutti, Susan Mather, Ronice Müller de Quadros, Jemina Napier, Paul Preston, Jennie E. Pyers, Robin Thompson, and Andrea Wilhelm. Their findings represent research in a number of countries, including Australia, Brazil, England, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. HEARING, MOTHER FATHER DEAF: Hearing People in Deaf Families includes a comprehensive description of the societal influences at work in the lives of deaf people and their hearing children, which serves as a backdrop for the essays. The topics range from bimodal bilingualism in adults to cultural and linguistic behaviors of hearing children from deaf families; sign and spoken language contact phenomena; and to issues of self-expression, identity, and experience. A blend of data-based research and personal writings, the articles in this sociolinguistic study provide a thorough understanding of the varied experiences of hearing people and their deaf families throughout the world.
The story of how American Sign Language (ASL) came to be is almost mythic. In the early 19th century, a hearing American reverend, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, met a Deaf French educator, Laurent Clerc, who agreed to come to the United States and help establish the first school in America to use sign language to teach deaf children. The trail of ASL’s development meanders at this point. No documentation of early ASL was published until the late 19th century, almost seven decades after the school’s founding. While there are many missing pieces in the history of America’s sign language, plenty of data exist regarding ASL etymology. This book is the first to collect all known texts featuring illustrations of early ASL and historical images of French Sign Language―langue des signes française (LSF)―and link them with contemporary signs. Through rigorous study of historical texts, field research in communities throughout France and the U.S., and in-depth analysis of the cultural groups responsible for the lexicon, authors Emily Shaw and Yves Delaporte present a compelling and detailed account of the origins of over 500 ASL signs, including regional variations. Organized alphabetically by equivalent English glosses, each sign is accompanied by a succinct description of its origin and an LSF sign where appropriate. Featuring an introductory chapter on the history of the development of ASL and the etymological methodology used by the authors, this reference resource breaks new ground in the study of America’s sign language.
The Writings of a Deaf Activist
Lawrence Newman became deaf at the age of five in 1930, and saw his father fight back tears knowing that his son would never hear again. The next time he saw his father cry was in 1978, when Newman received an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet University, his alma mater. Newman was recognized for his achievements as a life-long advocate for deaf education, including receiving California’s Teacher of the Year award in 1968. Perhaps his greatest influence, however, stemmed from his many articles and columns that appeared in various publications, the best of which are featured in I Fill This Small Space: The Writings of a Deaf Activist. Editor David Kurs has organized Newman’s writings around his passions — deaf education, communication and language, miscellaneous columns and poems on Deaf life, and humorous insights on his activism. His articles excel both as seamless arguments supporting his positions and as windows on the historical conflicts that he fought: against the Least Restrictive Environment in favor of residential deaf schools; for sign language, Total Communication, and bilingual education; and as a deaf teacher addressing parents of deaf children. A gifted writer in all genres, Newman amuses with ease (“On Mini and Midi-Skirts”), and moves readers with his heartfelt verse (“Girl with a Whirligig”). Newman ranges wide in his ability, but he always maintains his focus on equal tights for deaf people, as he demonstrates in his title poem “I Fill This Small Space:” I fill this small space, this time Who is to say yours is better Than mine or mine yours