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  • Variation in Indonesian Sign Language: A Typological and Sociolinguistic Analysis by Nick Palfreyman
  • Erin Moriarty (bio)
Variation in Indonesian Sign Language: A Typological and Sociolinguistic Analysis, by Nick Palfreyman (Boston: De Gruyter, 2019, cloth, 348 pages, $114.99, ISBN: 978-1-5015-0482-2)

Social media has become a powerful global force in sign language standardization, and sometimes purification, processes. Recently, a number of vlogs have been posted on social media by signers from various parts of the world crowdsourcing for the correct sign for a particular word. For example, a deaf tourist posted a vlog on Instagram asking for the "correct" sign for Yangon, Myanmar, when she traveled there. There have also been widespread debates among some signers about International Sign and ASL colonialization of it, as well as of certain national sign languages. As such, Nick Palfreyman's book, Variation in Indonesian Sign Language: A Typological and Sociolinguistic Analysis is a timely theoretical contribution to the study of variation in sign language. It is an important contribution to the debates surrounding the naming and delineation of sign languages, a highly contentious issue.

This book articulates a potent set of ideas that expands the conceptual field of sociolinguistics with its focus on the understudied dimension of variation in sign language. It is also a critique of the approaches to and methodology used in past sign language research in Southeast Asia. Palfreyman also addresses power dynamics in sociolinguistics research, especially in research with deaf communities in the global south. He does this with a discussion of previous research approaches and ethics; situating research in the community context. He also dedicates a substantial section of the book to a socio-history of the Indonesian signing community. Thus, this book is an important academic contribution to Deaf studies, sociolinguistics, and sign language research. [End Page 355]

This major publication on Indonesian Sign Language (Bahasa Ysyarat Indonesia, or BISINDO) introduces the practical and theoretical implications of studying a sign language spread over a vast archipelago of hundreds of islands. This book is based on fieldwork that Palfreyman conducted over several years with Indonesian signers in Solo, a city on the island of Java, and Makassar, on Sulawesi. The book is divided into three parts, with eight chapters.

Chapter 1 briefly introduces the context for this research and outlines the contours of the theoretical arguments that Palfreyman builds on throughout the book. He attends to the question of "Why 'Indonesian Sign Language'?" and provides a justification for the use of this term, pointing to the Indonesian Association for the Welfare of the Deaf's (Gerkatin) use of BISINDO since 2006. Palfreyman acknowledges the existence of Kata Kolok, a village sign language in Bali, and earlier publications that favor the use of "Jakarta Sign Language" and "Yogyakarta Sign Language" (Sze et al. 2015).

In the second chapter, Palfreyman reviews previous approaches to sign language research on variation. He briefly discusses the misappropriation of variation by some researchers, such as the use of "lexicostatistical" methods for the delineation of sign language varieties into separate sign languages. He lays out practices from variationist sociolinguistics and linguistic typology, drawing on this for subsequent analysis of his data.

Chapter 3 provides deep context for Palfreyman's sociolinguistic interpretation of data. This chapter is a historical overview of the Indonesian sign community, and one of the key points Palfreyman makes is that sociohistorical evidence points to the emergence of a single network of urban sign communities that have been in contact over at least a few decades. Based on this, Palfreyman argues that, at the national level, it is most appropriate to refer to this community as an urban sign community comprised of several subcommunities that have been in contact for several decades.

The fourth chapter outlines the process of data collection and the ethical concerns involved. Palfreyman discusses his ethical responsibilities as a researcher, especially in terms of linguistic activism and supporting the sign community with its political objectives. This chapter includes an explanation of the process of assembling a corpus of [End Page 356] Indonesian Sign Language varieties and the issues involved with the transcription of sign language data, and it concludes with a table...


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pp. 355-358
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