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SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2008-006

Assessment of regional language varieties in Indian Sign Language

Authors  Johnson, Jane E.
Johnson, Russell J.

The Indian Sign Language (ISL) diversity, vitality, and identity were examined in five cities with the purpose of prioritizing sign language literature development India-wide. This was accomplished with lexical similarity analysis, dialect intelligibility testing with recorded text tests (RTTs) and language attitude assessment. The results suggest one language with many dialects. The Mumbai (Bombay) variety was found to be the most appropriate for initial literature development, having the highest prestige and closest lexical similarity as well as moderately high dialect intelligibility. Hyderabad and Chennai (Madras) sign language varieties were most closely related with each other followed by Hyderabad and Mumbai. Kolkata’s (Calcutta) sign language variety was the least similar dialect followed by Chennai. In the authors’ opinion, both Kolkata and Chennai sign varieties should have literature developed in them, too. An option might be to adapt these as needed from a Mumbai translation.

This paper compares and contrasts wordlist analysis methods and recommends the use of wordlists of at least 250 non-iconic items and the movement-hold method of analysis (Liddell and Johnson 1989).

A “new approach” to assessing language diversity involving mathematically “merging” language component data (RTT, lexical, self-reported language ability, and language attitudes) is proposed. The merged data was found to be much more reliable in representing the linguistic situation of ISL. Individual language components often yielded somewhat different results, suggesting that the data samples were either insufficient and/or biased by themselves. Merging the data tended to minimize or cancel out an individual component’s bias and increased the overall sample size.

An extensive section discussing sociolinguistic factors has been pulled from this report and placed in an addendum to make the main report more streamlined. Recommendations are given for signed language survey.

Further research on ISL varieties is suggested.

  Assessment of regional language varieties in Indian Sign Language
Published  2008
Language  Indian Sign Language [ins]
Country  India
Subjects  Comparative and historical studies
Dialect intelligibility
Language surveys
Sign languages
Keywords  Sign languages; Language surveys; Comparative and historical studies; Dialect intelligibility