Contact between Mexican sign language and American sign language in two Texas border areas

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Quinto-Pozos, David Gilbert

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Cities of the Southwest United States that lie along the border with Mexico are fertile areas for the study of language contact. Many studies have addressed contact between Spanish and English in these areas. However, these areas also contain Deaf communities where Mexican Sign Language, or El Lenguaje de Signos Mexicano (LSM) is used; this results in contact between LSM and American Sign Language (ASL). Unlike contact between spoken languages, contact between signed languages has not been studied extensively. This study describes contact between LSM and ASL in two Deaf communities in Texas. Specifically, I describe the language production of eight Deaf individuals who participated in one-on-one interviews and group discussions. Drawing from video data, I document the sources of similarity between the meaningful elements used in LSM and ASL, the ways in which properties unique to either LSM or ASL may have interfered with language production in the other language, and the strategies participants used to achieve clear communication. Despite the fact that LSM and ASL are not mutually intelligible languages, the high percentage of similar meaningful elements produced by the participants is noteworthy. Among these elements were signs that are articulated similarly in the two languages and that share approximately the same meaning. Participants also frequently utilized gestures of the ambient hearing cultures and points for communication. Gestures and points are elements that are likely easily understood by users of other languages. The data from this study also reveal instances of interference between the linguistic system of one language and the equivalent system of the other language. Specifically, interference is evident on the following levels: the phonological level (sign formational parameters), the prosodic level (non-manual signals), and the paralinguistic level (mouthing). Also, code-switching/code-mixing can be found in the contact between two sign languages. Lastly, the participants also utilized various strategies for clarification in these LSM-ASL contact situations. These clarification strategies included code-switching, special ways of articulating double-digit numbers, and repetition.