"Making hands" : family sign languages in the San Juan Quiahije community




Hou, Lynn Yong-Shi

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This dissertation represents the first ethnographic study of the formation of a signing community in the San Juan Quiahije (SJQ), an indigenous Mesoamerican community in the Oaxaca, southern Mexico. The SJQ community consists of two neighboring Chatino villages, San Juan Quiahije and Cieneguilla. The Chatino people are an indigenous Mesoamerican group. Although the SJQ community does not have a high incidence of hereditary deafness, the community is unique because the families with deaf people have produced their own sign languages, San Juan Quiahije Chatino Sign Language (SJQCSL). I present three linked claims. First, an emerging sign language and signing community arises through families in coresidence. The family is the central social institution in the SJQ community, and serves as the primary organization of the signing community. The family serves as a community of practice; at the same time, the families belong to same larger social network of the SJQ community. Second, each signing family develops its own lexicon and perceives the lex- icon as their own creation. At the same time, the families share the communitys repertoire of conventional gestures. A closer examination of the lexicons reveal some overlap – an iconic patterning for the semantic categories of tools, food, and animals – between the family lexicons, but there are some distinctive characteristics such as different iconic patterning of animals and the development of directional verbs in one family. The family sign languages are not wholly distinct but they are not standardized either. Third, there is variation in family language ecologies. The ecologies shape and are shaped by overlapping and characteristic language ideologies about communicative accommodation, signed and spoken language development, form and function of sign language, and schooling. The consequences of the language ideologies are such that caregivers do not generally provide their children communicative accommodation, which has profound implications and consequences for the access and input to signed and spoken conversations for children. These findings suggest that SJQCSL may be best classified as a constellation of family sign languages and the signing community of SJQ consists of multiple, extended families in co-residence.



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