The Vulnerability of Emerging Sign Languages: (E)merging Sign Languages?

Marah Jaraisy, Rose Stamp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Emerging sign languages offer linguists an opportunity to observe language emergence in real time, far beyond the capabilities of spoken language studies. Sign languages can emerge in different social circumstances—some in larger heterogeneous communities, while others in smaller and more homogeneous communities. Often, examples of the latter, such as Ban Khor Sign Language (in Thailand), Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (in Israel), and Mardin Sign Language (in Turkey), arise in communities with a high incidence of hereditary deafness. Traditionally, these communities were in limited contact with the wider deaf community in the region, and so the local sign language remained relatively uninfluenced by the surrounding signed language(s). Yet, in recent years, changes in education, mobility, and social communication patterns have resulted in increased interaction between sign languages. Rather than undergoing language emergence, these sign languages are now facing a state of “mergence” with the majority sign language used by the wider deaf community. This study focuses on the language contact situation between two sign languages in Kufr Qassem, Israel. In the current situation, third-generation deaf signers in Kufr Qassem are exposed to the local sign language, Kufr Qassem Sign Language (KQSL), and the dominant sign language of the wider Israeli deaf community, Israeli Sign Language (ISL), both of which emerged around 90 years ago. In the current study, we analyzed the signing of twelve deaf sign-bilinguals from Kufr Qassem whilst they engaged in a semi-spontaneous task in three language conditions: (1) with another bilingual signer, (2) with a monolingual KQSL signer, and (3) with a monolingual ISL signer. The results demonstrate that KQSL-ISL sign-bilinguals show a preference for ISL in all conditions, even when paired with a monolingual KQSL signer. We conclude that the degree of language shift in Kufr Qassem is considerable. KQSL may be endangered due to the risk of social and linguistic mergence of the KQSL community with the ISL community in the near future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number49
JournalLanguages
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Keywords

  • Bilinguals
  • Israeli Sign Language
  • Kufr Qassem Sign Language
  • Language preference
  • Language shift
  • Mergence

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