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Abstracts for MLA 2014 Session 96: Sign Language Use and Development around the Globe

Abstracts for MLA 2014 Session 96: Sign Language Use and Development around the Globe

Thursday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Erie, Sheraton Chicago

Program arranged by the Division on Applied Linguistics

Presiding: Lawrence Williams, Univ. of North Texas


“The Deglobalization of World Sign Languages”

Crom Saunders, Columbia Coll., IL

The ongoing increase in exposure to American Sign Language (ASL) in cultures and communities around the world is causing an exponential upswing in cross-culture contamination of sign languages with less documentation and recognition.

A large number of communities, especially in the underdeveloped countries, currently look to ASL as a model, since ASL has received worldwide acknowledgment and exhaustive linguistic analysis.  This is problematic, since several sign language communities worldwide are now incorporating ASL features, vocabulary, and the English manual alphabet (in turn a contaminating influence on ASL) into their respective language systems, which disrupts the natural development of said systems independent of a contaminating influence.

We linguists need to further scrutinize this phenomenon and measures that may be taken to analyze and document this current trend.


“Quest for Academic Acceptance of American Sign Language (ASL) as a Modern or Second Language”

David Harry Smith, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville

An ever growing number of colleges and universities are offering ASL coursework in fulfillment of the second or foreign language requirement.  Today, ASL is one of the most widely taught and learned languages in the US and Canada.  ASL may be offered in Modern and Foreign Language programs, as well as being taught in Colleges of Education, Departments of Linguistics, and Speech & Hearing Sciences programs.  This paper addresses questions and problems typically encountered in academic settings for ASL to be considered as a foreign, modern, second or third language along with other spoken languages taught at colleges and universities. We address some common misconceptions about the linguistic status of ASL, academic relevance of ASL and Deaf Cultural Studies, ways to determine ASL proficiency, and how current trends towards greater ASL instruction impact primary, secondary and tertiary educational settings.


“Teaching and Interpreting in Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language (TTSL) Contexts: Charting a Course in True Collaboration”

Jeffrey E. Davis, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville

This presentation concentrates on international and interdisciplinary collaborative efforts among sign language researchers, teachers, interpreters, and community stakeholders from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds in Trinidad & Tobago.  It features recent research findings, fieldwork, and newly published works, which aim to illuminate the signed and spoken language varieties of multicultural/multilingual communities, and the challenges encountered by language teachers and interpreters working in TTSL contexts.

Until recently there has been a dearth of linguistic research and documentation about the sign language varieties used in the Caribbean.  Based on recent fieldwork and language documentation, we are finding that TTSL is mutually intelligible with American Sign Language (ASL), although it is a distinct dialect with many unique lexical items and features.   In the process, we are also developing one of the largest known corpora documenting West Indian Caribbean sign language varieties, as well as signed languages of American Indian and African American communities.

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