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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - Sign languages

from Part I - Foundations of sociolinguistics


The sociolinguistics of sign languages includes the study of regional and social variation, bi- and multilingualism and language contact phenomena, language attitudes, discourse analysis, and language policy and planning. Sign languages exhibit both regional and social variation. Phonological variation can be seen in the production of the component parts of signs such as handshape, location, palm orientation, number of articulators, non-manual signals, and segmental structure. Deaf communities contain examples of many types of bilingualism. The most crucial language attitudes are those that pertain to the very status of sign languages as viable linguistic systems. The discourse of natural sign languages is structured and subject to sociolinguistic description, and there are as many discourse genres in sign languages: conversations, narratives, lectures, sermons. The legal recognition of sign languages has increased in many countries and the use of sign languages has expanded in many domains.