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A Re-examination of Sign Language Diglossia

From: American Annals of the Deaf
Volume 128 Number 1, February 1983
pp. 48-52 | 10.1353/aad.2112.0014



The study of the sociolinguistic aspects of American Sign Language has been greatly influenced by Stokoe's (1969-1970) theory of sign language diglossia, which in turn was influenced by Ferguson's (1959) general theory of diglossia. Subsequent developments in the meaning of the term diglossia and further study of sociolinguistic patterns give us cause to re-examine Stokoe's characterization of signed English as H and American Sign Language as L in a diglossic relationship. Point-by-point analysis of Ferguson's article shows a great discrepancy between his Arabic, French, German, and Greek examples and the American Sign Language situation. Although the concept of diglossia remains of some use in understanding sign language communication, it must be expanded to a theory of bilingualism and diglossia. Consequences of recent developments and their potential for language change are speculated on.

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