- New Trends in ASL Variation Documentation
Sign Language Studies is introducing a new section titled "Reports on Ongoing Research." These short research briefs are intended to provide a format for researchers to report on projects for which research is ongoing but for which a timely research brief would be of interest to the Sign Language Studies (SLS) community. Research reports include relevant background information, including the impetus for the work, methodologies, past progress, state of ongoing work, dissemination efforts, and future plans. [End Page 350]
In this first research report, we are pleased to provide an overview of the progress made on three ongoing sociolinguistic documentation projects focused on American Sign Language (ASL). These projects are being carried out by three separate research teams based at the University of Pennsylvania, Gallaudet University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)–National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). The structure of the report will describe each project in turn, concluding with a description of future directions for a new sociolinguistic documentation project involving an exciting collaboration of the three research teams.
Sociolinguistic Variation in ASL
Recognition of sociolinguistic variation in ASL has been an important part of the documentation and description efforts since the beginning of linguistic research on the language (Lucas and Bayley 2001). As ASL is the language of diverse communities of Deaf (and hearing) people across the United States and Canada, far from being homogeneous, ASL comprises several unique ASL varieties (e.g., Black ASL [McCaskill, Lucas, Bayley, and Hill 2011; Hill 2017] or Philadelphia ASL [Fisher, Tamminga, and Hochgesang 2018]). While sociolinguists have focused considerable time and effort on documenting ASL variations, limited resources in the form of time, money, equipment, technology, and personnel have constrained documentation efforts. As such, our knowledge of ASL variations varies greatly from state to state, community to community, context to context both in terms of breadth and depth of knowledge. Furthermore, with a few exceptions (Hill 2012, Bayley et al. 2017), our understanding of ASL communities' beliefs and attitudes about nonprestige or minoritized varieties of ASL is still also largely lacking.
Here, we report on three current efforts to increase the breadth and depth of documentation of ASL varieties across diverse groups of signers, namely, the Philadelphia Signs Project (Fisher, Tamminga, and Hochgesang), the Gallaudet University Documentation of ASL project (GUDA) (Hochgesang and Shaw), and Documenting Individual Signs in ASL (DIVA) (Hill and Occhino). Each project focuses on solutions to different limitations of past documentation efforts while sharing similar goals, that is, to increase representation of underrepresented [End Page 351] varieties in the documentation of ASL, to raise awareness of varieties used in these communities, and to create sustainable and accessible language repositories for future generations of ASL signers to appreciate the signs of a diverse language community.
Philadelphia Signs Project (Fisher, Tamminga, and Hochgesang)
Philadelphia Signs Project: Background
The Philadelphia Signs Project is a collaborative effort between the Philadelphia Deaf community and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Gallaudet University. It centers on the collection, annotation, and analysis of video-recorded conversations of regular users of ASL, who were raised in and acquired ASL in the Philadelphia area. The impetus for this project came from various members of the Philadelphia Deaf community, who wished to document the variety of their signing, used mostly by the older signers in the Philadelphia area.
As a lifelong member of the Philadelphia Deaf community and faculty in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Linguistics, Dr. Jami Fisher realized there was an opportunity to meet the community's demand for documentation and preservation of its variety.1 Using her extensive connections within the Philadelphia Deaf community, Fisher was able to recruit both interviewers and participants to launch this extensive project. She turned to her Penn linguistics faculty colleague Dr. Meredith Tamminga to consult on socio linguistic methods; Tamminga subsequently joined the project, bringing expertise in sociolinguistic theory plus familiarity with research on language variation and change in Philadelphia English.2 Rounding out the team, Dr. Julie Hochgesang (Gallaudet University...