A Study of the School Lexicon in American Sign Language Jilly Kowalsky & Richard P. Meier University of Texas at Austin INTRODUCTION Educational institutions are fundamental to the formation of deaf communities (Padden & Humphries 2005; Lang 2003; Preston, 1994). Personal associations with schools for the Deaf are also fundamental to the identities of many deaf people. We examine a family of five signs for schools in the vocabulary of American Sign Language (ASL): specifically, INSTITUTE, INSTITUTE(sool), RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED, CAMPUS, and OFF-CAMPUS. See the photos below. The noun sign (1) INSTITUTE can be used to refer to any of a variety of institutes, including research institutes and mental health institutions. This is the sign from which we believe the others derived historically. Signs (2 ) and (3) pertain to the Deaf experience. (2) INSTITUTE (sool) means a residential school for the deaf in specific. (3) RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED emphasizes that a deaf person attended a residential school and strongly identifies with that aspect of the Deaf experience. The difference between #2 and #3 is that #2 is a label for a kind of school, whereas the latter refers to the cultural identity associated with having attended residential schools for the deaf. The last two signs can be used with respect to any school, deaf or not. CAMPUS (4) and OFF-CAMPUS (5) can be used to refer to the grounds of deaf schools or of large public universities like UT or Purdue. INSTITUTE(sool) and RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED are good examples of “narrowing” semantic change. To take an example from the history of English, Germanic hund meant “any dog at all”; now hound is a specialized word for a dog that hunts, such as a beagle (Crowley & Bowern 2010). Similarly, #2 INSTITUTE(sool) is a specialized sign for deaf schools, whereas #1 INSTITUTE is a generic word to talk about all types of institutes. RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED marks the cultural identity of a Deaf person who was educated in a residential school. Labeling the Deaf person as RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED is culturally specific. The sign INSTITUTE(sool) may be analogous to other once-stigmatized expressions that have become markers of minority group identities. In contemporary American society, gay and lesbian communities have adopted queer as a positive term (Reimann 2001). We think that the Deaf community’s use of INSTITUTE(sool) is similar. English institute has many pejorative associations. No state residential school now includes the word institute or institution in its official name, although a few oralist schools do. This makes it even more interesting that the Deaf community has adopted a sign derived from INSTITUTE as the name for a crucial institution in the Deaf community: its residential schools. The usage of INSTITUTE and its derived forms requires a reexamination of our understanding of initialized signs: as Padden (1988) has observed, some Deaf people have sought to distance themselves from initialized signs because they are thought to make ASL impure. This distancing makes Deaf ideology explicit. The findings reported here suggest that that the Deaf linguistic community actually has a more nuanced view of initialized signs. Rather than rejecting all initialized signs wholesale, the Deaf community has made the initialized sign we have examined here into a marker of Deaf identity. That initialized sign has also become nativized (Padden 1988), as evidenced by derived forms such as RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED. Further sociolinguistic work may show the extent of its usage in the Deaf community (1). We show that the initialized sign INSTITUTE is the source of a family of school-related signs in ASL. Examples of the use of INSTITUTE and RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED are shown below: “institute” (1) ME WORK S-A-L-K INSTITUTE. “I work at the Salk Institute.” The ASL noun INSTITUTE corresponds to the English word “institute”. A related noun INSTITUTE(sool) refers specifically to residential schools for the deaf; note that with this sign it would be ungrammatical to mouth “institute.” Instead a mouthing that is evidently derived from English “school” is required. Note the model’s rounded lips in Figure 2. ‘sool’ (2) ME GRADUATE INSTITUTE(sool). “ I graduated from a deaf residential school.” “mm” and head tilt (3) ME RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED. “I am residential-school educated.” A sign derived from INSTITUTE(sool) is the adjectival predicate RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED. This sign can be compared to the English phrase “Harvard-educated,” which refers to a person who is the product of Harvard. This derived sign appears similar to idiomatic derivatives (Klima & Bellugi 1979). “campus” (4) ME GO CAMPUS (2) NOW. “I am going to campus now.” The sign INSTITUTE has a semantic extension in the sign CAMPUS (with the associated mouthing “campus”). This sign can refer to the grounds of any university and not just to institutions or to residential schools for the deaf. Thus a signer in Austin could utter (4) as she is about to climb on the Shuttle to UT’s campus: “off” (5) ME OFF CAMPUS. “I am going off campus.” In the photo, the signer mouths “off.” That speech form seems more common than “off-campus” even though the appropriate gloss for this sign is OFF-CAMPUS. Five School-Related Signs Figure 1. INSTITUTE #1: “institute” Figure 2. INSTITUTE #2: “sool” Figure 3. RESIDENTIAL-SCHOOLED #3 + non-manual signals Figure 4. CAMPUS#4: “campus” Acknowledgments: Special thanks to the Austin Deaf Community for their input & insight (2009-2010). We also thank Franky Ramont for serving as our sign model. References Crowley, T., & C. Bowern (2010). An Introduction to Historical Linguistics, 4th edition. New York: Oxford University Press. Klima, E. S., & U. Bellugi (1979). The Signs of Language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Lang, H. G.( 2003). Perspectives on the history of deaf education. In M. Marschark & P.E. Spencer. In Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education. New York: Oxford University Press, 9-20 Padden, C. A. (1998). The ASL lexicon. Sign Language & Linguistics,1, 39-60. Padden, C. A., & T. L. Humphries (2005). Inside Deaf Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Preston, P. (1998). Mother Father Deaf: Living Between Sound and Silence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Reimann, R.( 2001). Lesbian Mothers at Work. InMary Bernstein & Renate Reimann, Eds. Queer Families, Queer Politics: Challenging Culture and the State. New York: Columbia University Press, 1 This other sign for “CAMPUS” is identical to “PROPERTY” or “COLLEGE”. The focus of this research is the school-related signs related to initialized I-handshape. 2 There are also other examples of initialized signs that are markers of Deaf cultural affiliations: e.g., the use of the initialized sign RAT to mean “freshman.” Figure 5. OFF-CAMPUS #5: “off-campus”
Many thanks to Françoise Bonnal and Marion Blondel for sharing these sources. Bonnal-Vergès, Françoise. 2010. Sémiogenèse de la langue des signes française. Limoges, France: Editions Lambert-Lucas.