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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: February 2015

1 - Introduction


In the 2001 volume entitled The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages, edited by Ceil Lucas (Cambridge University Press), it is stated that, since the early 1980s, “the field of sign language sociolinguistics has virtually exploded. There is work to report on from all of the major areas of sociolinguistics: multilingualism, bilingualism and language contact, variation, discourse analysis, language planning and policy, language attitudes, and work that reports on Deaf communities from all over the world” (xvii). That volume provided chapters on all of this work. Lucas went on to observe that

the earliest sociolinguistic research in Deaf communities was shaped and perhaps limited by at least four interrelated considerations: 1) the relationship between the spoken language of the majority community and the sign language, particularly in educational settings; 2) limited knowledge of the linguistic structure of the sign language; 3) doubts as to the actual status of the sign language as a “real language”; and 4) application of spoken sociolinguistic models to sign language situations.

(p. 4)

Turning now to 2015 and the current volume, we attempt here to cover the same basic areas of sign language sociolinguistics. We intend this volume to be used as a text in upper-level undergraduate and graduate sociolinguistics courses, but also hope that it is a contribution which will be of interest to sign language researchers and sociolinguists working on both signed and spoken languages as well as anyone with a desire to know more about the sociolinguistics of Deaf communities. We have come a long way since the 2001 volume! While there is, of course, still a necessary focus on the relationship between spoken languages and sign languages, especially in educational settings, a tremendous amount of work has been done on the relationship between sign languages in the last decade. We see some of this important work documented in Chapter 2: “Sign Languages in the World.” In Chapter 2, Jordan Fenlon and Erin Wilkinson distinguish macro Deaf communities from micro ones, the latter including “deaf villages” in which inhabitants, both hearing and Deaf, use a sign language.

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Eckert, P. (2012) Three waves of variation study: The emergence of meaning in the study of variation. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 87–100.
Stokoe, William C. (2001) Language in Hand – Why Sign Came before Speech. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.