chapter  25
Sign languages
ByBencie Woll, Rachel Sutton-Spence
Pages 14

This chapter explores applied linguistics in relation to sign languages – the term used to refer to the class of natural human languages which have arisen spontaneously within Deaf communities. These languages are produced and perceived in the visual modality, and are unrelated to the spoken languages which surround them. Despite surface differences from spoken language, they share at a deeper level the linguistic structure of all human language, and are used in parallel social and communicative contexts. They are unwritten languages that occupy minority positions within societies where other languages are dominant. The chapter takes as its starting point that the driving thrust of applied linguistics is to

identify and solve problems (both practical and policy-orientated) within a language situation independent of the modality of the language or languages considered. The chapter will begin with a brief but comprehensive introduction to the linguistic study of

sign languages and the status of different sign languages within their surrounding majority spoken language communities. The section includes a concise description of phonology, morphology, syntax, pragmatics and discourse. We primarily describe sign languages in Europe and North America, but consideration will be given to sign languages in other parts of the world, and to a comparison of urban and village sign languages, and of new and old sign languages. A discussion of current research priorities in applied linguistics of sign language, including lexicography and sign language corpus linguistics, follows. This leads into a consideration of sign languages within a bilingual context, which will cover such topics as access to spoken/ written language and literacy, interpreting and translation, and workplace communication in mixed Deaf/hearing settings. The remainder of the chapter discusses a range of issues pertinent to applied linguistics,

grouped around three themes: sign language teaching and learning, sign language politics, and social and technological change. Description of sign language teaching and learning includes L1 and L2 acquisition, curriculum design, learner assessment, and classroom practices. Our exploration of applied linguistics of sign language in relation to language and politics covers sign language planning, language choice, linguistic correctness, identity and language. The

final section will look ahead to the potential impact of change on sign language and the Deaf community, including language variation and change, and new technology.