ASL around the world: A Trinidadian, an Englishman, a Nigerian and a Guyanese walk into a park in Guyana…

lingdept:

Excellent response to “What I think about a Peace Corps posting…”. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya, I often ran into Deaf Kenyans who told me that they wanted to learn more ASL. I would tell them that they already had a language that worked just as well – KSL (Kenyan Sign Language). But they said that “ASL was the language of Deaf people who went to college.” Who was I to argue with that? I had never thought that ASL would become like English, a language of prestige, one to be used in trade and such. Ben Braithwaithe raises this very point much more eloquently than I just did. – Julie A. Hochgesang

Originally posted on Language Blag:

In 2012, I made the short trip to Guyana to meet with members of the Deaf community in the capital, Georgetown, to see some of the work being done by a group then called Deaf in Guyana, now called the Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG), and to do some initial linguistic research. Walking through Georgetown’s beautiful botanical gardens one afternoon, a group of us happened to meet a hearing Nigerian man who had gone to a deaf school as a child in Nigeria (his father was the principal, I think). We chatted together for a while as we waited for a rain shower to pass. We talked about the differences between our countries, about languages and religions. As we talked — a Nigerian, an Englishman, two Trinidadians and one Guyanese, some hearing, some Deaf — the language we used was American Sign Language.

fieldwork guyana

I thought of that trip as I read Julie Hochgesang’s…

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Follow-up post for “What I think about A Peace Corps Posting…” by Deaf RPCV Allen Neece

Allen Neece, who has written the follow-up post below, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya, Zambia, and Guyana, 2007-2010. He taught for two years at a residential primary school in Kenya, was an advisor to the Zambia National Association of the Deaf in Lusaka, and in Guyana as a Response Volunteer, he worked as a Deaf Education Specialist within the Ministry of Education. He subsequently worked with Voluntary Services Overseas from 2011-2012 as a capacity advisor with the Rwanda National Union of the Deaf in Kigali. He hasn’t earned a salary since 2007.

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Allen Neece at Gallaudet University by his picture in the Peace Corps exhibit

 
Here’s some intelligence I can share, from what I know of the particular situation in Guyana.
 
The Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG) (formerly known as Deaf In Guyana, DIG) is run by an elderly white Dutch woman who can barely sign herself. My observations and interactions with her in 2011 left me with the distinct impression that DIG/DAG was nothing more than an after school social club for Deaf youth in Georgetown. Her intentions are certainly noble, she has devoted much of her time and energy to providing opportunities for Deaf youth but they largely stem to issues pertaining to leisure and recreation.
 
Deaf education in Georgetown/Guyana makes Kenya seem positively stratospheric by comparison. The majority of Deaf people in Guyana are essentially illiterate in both English and sign language. Consequently, they have no ability to organize, network, and advocate effectively. I think DIG/DAG was started to address this, with the ostensible goal of nurturing grassroots advocacy. 
 
Your reference to the TOR principles by Harris, et al., is spot on. This hasn’t happened in this particular issue of DAG requesting an ASL instructor from Peace Corps. If the Deaf community was truly involved in this request, I find it preposterous they would have requested an ASL instructor. I met Deaf Guyanese who were clearly cognizant of the need for self-determination and empowerment in addressing the need for research into the native sign languages of Guyana (there seem to be regional dialects as well, oriented by specific towns). They may not have been afforded formal education but they’re certainly capable of engaging in a dialectical process concerning ASL and GSL.
 
There are no professional sign language interpreters in Guyana. However, there is a hearing couple who runs an evangelical church in Georgetown. The pastor is quite skilled in ASL and often works as a SLI in Georgetown for meetings. Although he has his own motives pertaining evangelicalism of the Deaf community, he’s been around long enough to know that there are several nascent strains of GSL percolating around the country and he wholeheartedly supports the need for further awareness and research. When participating in meetings concerning special education issues, he and I both stressed the need for further research on GSL. Unfortunately, like Kenya, Deaf education doesn’t register on the radar at the MOE and reforms occur glacially, if at all. I suggested that if it wasn’t feasible to bring SL linguists from the States, they could still find capable linguists from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), perhaps such as the University of the West Indies in Kingston. 
 
I was invited to Georgetown to ostensibly train teachers in Deaf ed at the Cyril Potter of Education but for a number of reasons, it didn’t happen. I specifically told Peace Corps Guyana that unless it could be guaranteed that a future Response volunteer could teach at the college, it would be unwise to replace me with a new volunteer. They didn’t listen and to my irritation, they continued for another year to recruit a new volunteer before they finally dropped it.
 
This ASL instructor assignment is not the first time DAG has requested a volunteer. A RPCV from Deaf Ed Kenya was there 2012-2013 and she had issues, too, with DAG and ended up having to modify her assignment so she could stay on in another capacity. I’m trying to track her down and glean more intelligence.
 
My take is that there simply needs to be better vetting and evaluation of requests for Volunteers from host country nationals by PC posts, both overseas and in D.C., as well as a need for better awareness of issues pertaining to disability and language. I get the feeling that PC Response in Guyana may just be filling up empty slots to justify funding purposes without adequately scrutinizing the true rationale for placements.
 
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What I think about a Peace Corps posting for a sign language teacher in Guyana

(NOTE: This blog is written from my perspective and the views here are my own. They do not necessarily represent the views of my colleagues nor do they represent the views of my employer. – Julie A. Hochgesang)

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(photo of Deaf Kenyan girl with Julie Hochgesang outside of her home at the deaf school in Kilifi, Kenya when serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2002-2004)

I am a faculty member in the linguistics department here at Gallaudet and my interests lie in language documentation, which is concerned with recording (filming, annotating and making available via computer/online) natural instances of language behavior (conversations, stories, and so on) in the community itself to support further investigation of that language. This compilation of information can serve as evidence for research as well as support the development of additional resources related to that language. 

Language documentation is an activity in which the community itself should be actively involved, or rather initiating and leading. They are the main stakeholders and have the right to decide how their language is represented. According to the Sign Language Communities Terms of Reference principles proposed by Harris, Holmes and Mertens (2009) based on Indigenous Terms of Reference, “Deaf sign language users should be involved in each stage of the research project and not just as consultants. It is important that the community be involved, to understand the aspects of the entire process, to have a hand in the construction of knowledge about their own language, community and culture” (Hochgesang, in preparation).

It is from this perspective of language documentation and firm belief that the community itself should be first and foremost in the construction of knowledge related to their own community that I am writing about a recent job posting that has made its rounds recently on the Internet. I list the original posting directly below and follow up with my email response to the coordinators of the posting. 

A job posting that is currently making its rounds (via email and message lists) in the Deaf community among ASL instructors: 

“Three Peace Corps Response Volunteers are needed to serve as Sign Language Teachers for the Deaf Association of Guyana. There is no organization or institution in Guyana offering on-going courses in sign language – not even at the Ministry of Education. As a consequence, the level of sign language among teachers and other service providers is almost nonexistent, parents and other interested persons have no opportunity to learn sign language and the majority of deaf children, youths and adults have limited knowledge and skills in their own language, namely sign language. The Deaf Association of Guyana’s mission includes actively seeking out deaf persons hitherto excluded from mainstream social-economic activities, promoting the use of sign language as a communication tool amongst its hearing and deaf members, and facilitating sign language classes on request for organizations and institutions.

Three Sign Language Teachers, fluent in American Sign Language and experienced in the teaching of ASL to hearing as well as deaf target groups, are needed to assist the Deaf Association of Guyana with conducting courses and community outreach. The Sign Language Teachers will be asked to design courses and teach ASL to a variety of target groups, including teachers, students, essential service providers, and community members. The Response Volunteers will also support DAG’s efforts in providing sports and cultural activities to youth. Additionally, the Sign Language Teachers will help DAG to report on and evaluate its activities. The goal of this assignment is to improve the level of sign language of numerous stakeholders while also increasing DAG’s capacity to offer quality programming to youth and the community.

These are approximate departure dates and may change. The three Response Volunteers selected will be placed at different local sites. Duties will vary accordingly.”

My response to this post: 

“As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, as a Deaf person, and as a linguist, this job position announcement is troubling to me. First, as you probably already know, signed languages are unique to each community (just as spoken languages are) and as minority languages, they are quite vulnerable to external pressures, such as that exerted by majority languages (usually the spoken language(s) used by the surrounding community but sometimes signed languages brought from more powerful countries). Unfortunately in the past, ASL has been exported to other countries and used as language of instruction, ignoring and often superseding local signed languages already in place. This issue is well known to organizations like the World Federation of the Deaf or Deaf communities who do work with other countries or linguists. It is our belief that local signed languages should be recognized and used in any communicative situation. Encouraging that ASL be used instead is not something we wish to see happen. Perhaps this is not what was intended by those who developed this job position but this is the impression I am receiving from the announcement. I would be happy to discuss this further if need be. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate that you are mindful of the need to support the Deaf community in Guyana and hope that it can be done in a way that uses the local resources.”

Additional thoughts (not included in the first email to the Peace Corps recruiter): The posting makes the claim that “the level of sign language among teachers and other service provides is almost nonexistent… and the majority of deaf children, youths and adults have limited knowledge and skills in their own language, namely sign language”.

First, the name of their language is not “sign language” – this is a modality of language, just like “spoken language”. One would not say that someone used spoken language but would identify the language itself by its name, e.g., French, Spanish, etc.

Second, there are no statistics provided to support such claims. Perhaps such numbers are not available due to lack of census information or specific surveys for the deaf community. In any case, this is a general and wide-reaching claim that is not clearly supported by research.

Further clarification on this posting by a Peace Corps recruiter (in direct response to my response above): 

“I asked for further clarification from post and wanted to share that information with you.  While the volunteer will learn GSL the host organization has specifically requested an ASL instructor.  I have been told that ASL and GSL are used interchangeably and this NGO was founded with an ASL instruction basis a few years ago.  We are having discussions to see if the NGO would like to have a GSL instructor in the future but the request right now is for ASL instruction and we are working to fill that request.

 So for now it seems to be a mix of both ASL and GSL.  I understand your concern and want to reassure you that we are aware of the issue and have already started discussions about how to adjust future requests.”

My reply: 

“My initial concerns remain then if it is the case that an ASL instructor is being sought for this position. I personally (and I think other people will share the same sentiments as me) feel strongly that Peace Corps should not be involved in this posting. Peace Corps should not be a part of linguistic imperialism (the importing of foreign powerful languages). I have already received a few emails regarding this posting from other people in the Deaf community expressing concern about the willingness of the Peace Corps to support such activities. Peace Corps already has somewhat of a negative reputation with the American Deaf community for allowing ASL to be brought to other countries and displacing local signed languages.”

Luckily this situation is perhaps not as widespread as the posting might lead one to think. For instance, Peace Corps volunteers who are placed in Deaf Education programs are encouraged to learn the local signed language and to use that as language of interaction and instruction. Although this encouragement can be variable (it depends on the knowledge of the trainers responsible for training Peace Corps Volunteer). When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya (2002-2004), I took Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) classes and was encouraged to use this language while interacting with the Deaf community. And more recently, returned Peace Corps volunteers (including myself) have met with people working at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, DC to discuss issues like these mentioned above. We are engaged in a continuing dialogue to try to address this issue more systemically.

See also: World Federation of the Deaf policy on work with developing countries: http://wfdeaf.org/databank/policies

References:

Harris, R., Holmes, H., & Mertens, D.M. (2009). Research ethics in sign language communities. Sign Language Studies, 9(2), 104-131.

Hochgesang, J.A. (in preparation). Ethics of researching signed languages: The case of Kenyan Sign Language (KSL). In A.C. Cooper & K.K. Rashid (Eds.), Signed Languages in Sub-Saharan Africa: Politics, citizenship and shared experiences of difference. Washington, DC : Gallaudet University Press.

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Introduction to Haitian Sign Language Documentation Project (LSHDoP)

Deaf Haitian man asking Deaf Haitian woman questions about her language

Deaf Haitian man asking Deaf Haitian woman questions about her language

With the support of Organization of American States (OAS), some members of the linguistics department at Gallaudet University (1 faculty member, 2 second-year MA graduate students and 1 recent graduate of the MA program) are working with members of the Deaf community in Haiti in initial (and hopefully ongoing) efforts to document their signed language. This partnership came about through the work of Sylvie Marc-Charles Weir (an employee of Gallaudet university and child of parents from Haiti) and Kate McAuliff (graduate student in the International Development department) who, with the support of the Deaf Haitian community, brought the need for documenting Haitian Sign Language (LSH) to the attention of governmental officials, specifically Gerald Oriol Jr., Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities. Secretary Oriol then contacted others looking for people with expertise in working on signed language research and found the Gallaudet linguistics department.

After several months of work on the project proposal, the Haitian Sign Language Documentation Project (LSHDoP for short) officially started at the end of May. LSHDoP is a short-term project which will end in September but is hopefully a sustainable start to ongoing efforts towards the documentation of signed language in Haiti.

First, before describing the activities of the project itself, a brief introduction to language documentation is in order. Language documentation is the act of representing natural instances of language in an electronic format that makes it possible to perform effective (rapid and reliable) searches of the primary data (typically in video form for signed language). Other than the obvious goal of creating a lasting record of the language in order to preserve it, one major aim of language documentation is to support further investigation of that language. Having a language recorded in a searchable format allows researchers to quickly find examples of a variety of features of that language. Another major aim is to support the development of additional resources related to that language. These resources may include dictionaries for fluent and beginning signers, instructor and student textbooks for language classes, and reference materials supporting the work of language interpreters.

A lovely quote about language documentation can be found in the preface to the book Essentials of Language Documentation (edited by Gippert, Himmelmann, & Mosel 2006): 

Language documentation is concerned with the methods, tools, and theoretical underpinnings for compiling a representative and lasting multipurpose record of a natural language or one of its varieties. It is a rapidly emerging new field in linguistics and related disciplines working with little-known speech communities. While in terms of its most recent history, language documentation has co-evolved with the increasing concern for language endangerment, it is not only of interest for work on endangered languages but for all areas of linguists and neighboring disciplines concerned with setting new standards regarding the empirical foundations of their research. Among other things, this means that the quality of primary data is carefully and constantly monitored and documented, that the interfaces between primary data and various types of analysis are made explicit and critically reviewed, and that provisions are taken to ensure the long-term preservation of primary data so that it can be used in new theoretical ventures as well as in (re-)evaluating and testing well-established theories (preface, Gippert, Himmelmann and Mosel 2006).

Basically, to understand something about language, it is quite helpful to observe everyday instances of that language in its natural habitat. So, for LSHDoP, the goals of the project are to do that along with working with the Deaf community in ensuring that members of that community are actively involved (or rather leading the efforts themselves). Deaf Haitians (both members of the project team and consultants for the data collection) should take the lead in data collection, representation and dissemination. For example, Deaf Haitians should ask other Deaf Haitians questions about their own language and be responsible for recording this interaction (both filming and transcribing). They are the main stakeholders and have the right to decide how their language is represented (e.g., Harris, Holmes and Mertens 2009).

LSHDoP has two main teams – 1 team is on the ground in Haiti and consists entirely of Deaf Haitians who are eager to work on the documentation of their signed language. The Deaf Haitian LSHDoP team works daily with Kate McAuliff who is in Haiti for the duration of the entire project. Kate serves as a liaison between the Deaf Haitian team and the Gallaudet team of researchers. Together, the two teams will work towards collecting video data (of the Deaf Haitians) and annotating the data. By August, they intend to have a basic grammatical sketch (a brief description of the structure of the language) which will be accessible in different languages: written English, signed LSH, written Kreole and written French.

References: 

Harris, R., Holmes, H.M., & Mertens, D.M. (2009). Research ethics in sign language communities. Sign Language Studies, 9(2), 104-131. 

Gippert, J., Himmelmann, N.P., & Mosel, U (Eds). (2006). Essentials of  Language Documentation, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 

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Zaban Eshareh Iran (ZEI) – sign language of Deaf Iranians

Jodie Novak, who just graduated with a master’s degree from our program, created this video in collaboration with two Deaf users of Zaban Eshareh Iran (ZEI). Some of the information included in the video came from a graduate class offered in our department – Field Methods – in which graduate students of the linguistics department work closely with consultants from an understudied sign language (which varies from semester to semester). For the entire semester, students elicit, transcribe and analyze filmed data in the attempt to better understand the lexicon and grammar of that signed language.
This video offers discussion of linguistic research and some of the findings of the Fall 2013 Field Methods class on Zaban Eshareh Iran (the sign language used by the Deaf community in Iran).  The audience for the video is the Deaf Community in Iran, however, we thought folks in the department would enjoy watching it as well.  The video is in ZEI;  English and Farsi captions will be added soon.
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Brown Bag May 2nd 12 to 1 – Dr Anna Marie Trester

Please join us this Friday, May 2nd, from noon to 1pm in the Linguistics Department open area (SLCC 3233) for our final brown bag lunch presentation of the semester. Our guest presenter will be Dr. Anna Marie Trester from Georgetown University.

Dr. Trester is Director of the Georgetown University Linguistics Department’s MA program in Language and Communication and has a deep commitment to making linguistics accessible and finding practical applications of linguistics research. She will share with us about her passion for stories and how they have led her to focus on applied sociolinguistics, especially in terms of creative linguistics careers and professional self-presentation. As she says on her blog, “when you begin to see that language is everywhere you want to be better able to harness the power of being an observant and effective communicator. The skills that you cultivate as a linguist will serve you in navigating whatever the future brings, whether that be a job, or further study, or simply in better understanding how you interact with the people in your life.”

Following the brown bag, Dr. Trester will meet with the Proseminar class to talk more specifically about careers for people with degrees in linguistics. Her presentation is entitled “Whither Linguistics? Oh The Places You’ll Go.”

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Job Announcement: Clinical Assistant Professor, Deaf Education/ASL Interpreting (Utah State University)

Original post from: Conference of Interpreter Trainers

Position Clinical Assistant Professor, Deaf Education/ASL Interpreting

Department Communicative Disorders & Deaf Education (COMD)

Location Salt Lake Campus

Position Summary ***Re-Advertisement***

The Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education at Utah State University invites applications for a 9-month position at the Clinical Assistant Professor (non-tenure track) level beginning August 2014. The successful candidate will have a background in Deaf Education/ ASL Interpreting and provide leadership to a cooperative program between Salt Lake Community College Interpreter Training Program (Associate degree level) and Utah State University (Bachelor degree level) . While a member of the Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education in Logan, UT, the successful candidate will be housed at the USU Regional Campus in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Responsibilities

1. Serve as a liaison between the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) Interpreter Training Program and Utah State University (USU) Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education

2. Develop upper division undergraduate ASL and interpreting curricula leading to a bachelor degree in consultation with the SLCC Interpreter Training coordinator

3. Assess student ASL and interpreting competencies; provide supervision and mentoring to undergraduate students having completed a major in interpreting at SLCC and assist them in upper division curriculum choices to achieve their bachelor’s degree at USU

4. Teach 3-4 courses (12-16 credit hours) per semester (Fall and Spring) in American Sign Language, interpreter related courses, and Deaf culture courses, using current pedagogical practices

5. Present professional information to the profession and the public

6. Participate in state and national professional associations.

Minimum Qualifications

1. An earned doctorate degree in Deaf Education, Interpreting, Educational Administration and Supervision, Deaf Studies, ASL Linguistics, Instructional Design, or a related area. ABD applicants will be considered.

2. Demonstrated strength in ASL, interpreting, and English

3. Ability to work effectively as a member of an interdisciplinary and inter-higher education institution team

4. Advanced or superior proficiency in American Sign Language with demonstrated ability to converse fluently in high-level professional and academic conversations

5. State or national certification with American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA), Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and/or National Interpreter Certification (NIC)

Preferred Qualifications

1. Five years of teaching ASL/interpreting in higher education

2. Five or more years in Educational Administration /Supervision related to Deaf Education and/or interpreting; and, an in-depth knowledge of Deaf culture, deafness, and communication issues

3. Experience in curriculum development

4. International Deaf Education and/or interpreting experience

5. Record of writing and receiving grants related to Deaf Education and/or interpreting

6. Experience in community outreach and recruitment

7. Evidence of involvement and leadership on the national level in Deaf Education and/or interpreting (Council on Education of the Deaf, RID, etc.)

Position Close Date Open Until Filled

Salary Commensurate with experience and excellent benefits

See http://jobs.usu.edu/applicants/Central?quickFind=59371 for more information and to apply online.

Requisition Number 054168

Utah State University is an equal opportunity employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age, status as a protected veteran, among other things, or status as a qualified individual with disability.

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