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IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIOLINGUISTIC RESEARCH AMONG THE DEAF' James C. Woodward 1.0 Introduction The purpose of this paper is to present a brief outline of the language situation of the deaf and to suggest areas for future sociolinguistic research. Unfortunately, despite many studies done on the language of deaf persons, there are few that are based on sound linguistic principles. For example, certain scholars (e.g. Furth) have stated that American Sign Language (ASL) is "not a verbal language" and that the deaf generally have poor English and are linguistically deficient. Even some studies that are linguistically based (e.g. Taylor) have ignored ASL and have concentrated on "errors" in the English of the deaf. Some linguistic work has been done on ASL. McCall generally used terminology of traditional English grammar couched in 1957 transformational rules to describe ASL. More reliable studies have been done, among them Stokoe (1960, 1965), which concentrate on a structural description of the "phonemes" of ASL, identifying them as cheremes. These reliable linguistic studies have pointed out that ASL and the ASL community is parallel in many ways to the complicated language situation in the hearing world. Unfortunately, much more linguistic research needs to be done, if we want to get an accurate picture of the language situation in the deaf community. To begin one can describe generally the language situation among the deaf. The problem then is, how does this correlate with extralinguistic reality, i.e. the social variables, attitudes about language, etc. that affect language use. This can only be done through research. Sign Language Studies 2.0 The Languages The deaf in America are either monolingual in a variety or varieties of ASL, monolingual in a variety or varieties of American English, or they are partially or completely bilingual in a variety or varieties of ASL and in a variety or varieties of English. Some work has been done to describe variation in ASL along regional (Croneberg) and social (Stokoe, 1970) lines. But none of the work is based on rigorous field techniques. Field work needs to be done. As far as American English is concerned, a number of the deaf use a non-standard variety or varieties of American English. This is obvious from the fact that educators of the deaf always speak of the poor or bad English of the deaf. Unfortunately, some people using linguistic methodology (e.g. Taylor) agree with this analysis of the educators. Probably there are some deaf people who have acquired something of a bi-dialectal status in American English, but to date, no research studies have been done in this area. For those people who are partially or completely bilingual in a variety or varieties of ASL and English, the language situation seems to be structured along a diglossic plane (Stokoe, 1970). The L variety or varieties are a variety or varieties of ASL; the H variety or varieties are a variety or varieties of American English. As Stokoe has pointed out, language choice is influenced in much the same way that Ferguson has described in his classic paper on diglossia-that is, setting, topic, participants, etc. all play a large role in language choice. Actually, the diglossic situation may be the only language situation necessary to describe, for it is difficult to imagine a deaf person in America not coming into contact with ASL or American English at some time in his life. He may have only a limited knowledge of one or the other end on the diglossic scale, but he undoubtedly will use another part of the scale like a native. The problem is why one person uses certain varieties and another person does not. Environmental factors influencing language development and use must be discovered. Implications For Sociolinguistic Research Some of the environmental (social) factors influencing language development probably are: social class, educational level of parents and self, date and degree of hearing loss of parents and self, type of school (oral vs. manual) attended, and others not yet identified. Many interesting hypotheses about the correlation of social and linguistic variables among the deaf could be made; but, at present, it would not be very fruitful to do so, since no...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6263
Print ISSN
0302-1475
Pages
pp. 1-7
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-02
Open Access
No
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