Sign languages

Authored by: Lynn Hou , Annelies Kusters

The Routledge Handbook of Linguistic Ethnography

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138938168
eBook ISBN: 9781315675824
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter argues for the value of linguistic ethnography in the study of sign language. It provides a brief account of the methods used in linguistic ethnographic studies of sign languages, particularly long-term participant observation, video recording (often annotated using ELAN) and team ethnography. It defines the different terms which have been used in sociolinguistic studies of signing. It reviews work which has adopted an ethnographic approach to studying language, including signed communication, among deaf, deaf-blind and hearing people in a range of contexts. This includes work on language learning and socialisation; emerging sign languages; language contact, multilingualism and semiotic repertoires; and language shift and endangerment. The chapter shows the value of linguistic ethnographic work for understanding how new sign languages emerge, how people acquire sign languages, how people negotiate communication in these contexts and how their experiences are represented metalinguistically, including in language ideologies. Future directions identified include attention to the new communicative spaces opened up for deaf people through a range of platforms for online video communication.

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