Tag Archives: LeMaster and Monaghan

Summary of “Variations in Sign Language” by Barbara LeMaster and Leila Monaghan

In “Variation in Sign Language” written by Barbara LeMaster and Leila Monaghan , the authors discuss sign language which is a signed language communicated through the use of one’s hands, face and body (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). It is used and understood through the sense of seeing instead of speech which is why sign language is commonly used among deaf individuals (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). The authors also discuss the different kinds of variations relating to sign language that’s based on region, age, gender, ethnicity, and social setting (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004).  

          The authors argue that there are variations within specific sign languages according to characteristics such as region, age, sex/gender, and register (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). This argument was supported with evidence such as the fact that slang can mark an individual’s age which is determined by whether they’re used or used appropriately (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). For example, a couple years ago, the term I have reason, was used by young women as a safe way to speak about their period in front of adults usually in the presence of teachers who weren’t supposed to know the sign because of their age (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). This reminds me of how similar and true this is for spoken language as well because from my experience, often the use of slang is common among young people and I’ve often found it to be used incorrectly with older aged individuals. Some other examples used to support the argument are gender variations. Gender variation in signed languages come from Irish Sign Language used in Ireland which stemmed from sex-segregated deaf school language use where two gender-distinct sign lexicons developed (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). Signs used for common nouns, verbs, and adjectives in the lexicon such as night, use, and cruel differed by the sex of the signer which is why women born before 1930 and men born before 1945 who attended the Dublin deaf schools typically use gendered forms of ISL (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004).

  “Apple” Female Sign        ”Apple” Male Sign

     Also, another kind of variation in ASL and other sign languages is by ethnicity (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). With African American Deaf signing (Aramburo 1989), signing is influenced by the separation between white and African American communities (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). In southern communities where schools were segregated, there are signing differences between them and African American signers, especially in the South, have different vocabularies from white signers that live in the same area (LeMaster, B and L Monaghan, 2004). 

      The authors provide clear evidence and examples for the different types of variations such as ethnicity, gender, and age in sign language. The author’s argument gives us an understanding about how language works by discussing sign language. It’s explained how deaf people are separated through variations of sign language based on certain characteristics and that there isn’t just one way to sign. The author may be making this argument to show that deaf people don’t all sign the same way and factors such as ethnicity and region are why.

 LeMaster, B and L Monaghan. (2004). “Variation in Sign Language.” In A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology. Pp. 141-165. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Summary of “Variation in Sign Language” by Barbara LeMaster and Leila Monaghan

In the chapter “Variation in Sign Language” by Barbara LeMaster and Leila Monaghan, the authors argue how sign language is not universal. Sign language differs based on many different factors. Sign language is not universal because “Geographical, national, and social boundaries can separate people by the sign languages they use” (142). There are other variations that cause sign language to not be universal as well. The authors mention how families use ‘home signs’ which are created by the families of those who are deaf. Many children who are born deaf are usually born into families that are not deaf, so being first time learners, parents will adapt their own home signs that they can use to communicate with their child. These home signs are found everywhere and are not limited to just one city or country. They are unique.

Another variation on sign language consists of specific languages according to the region, age, sex/gender, and register. The authors include information on how younger women used sign to discuss with others about being on their periods. They did not want the older adults to know what they were discussing in sign. This age variation “associated with youthfulness” (149) allows for younger people to communicate with one another in a way that that only people their age can understand. In addition to age variations there are also regional variations on sign. This chapter discusses how sign language is not an equivalent language to spoke language, it contains its own grammar. For instance, in the United States, England, and the Republic of Ireland are different from one another. The authors remark that sign language does not develop in relation to spoken language. However, they do “have their own complex morphology, phonology, syntax, and semantic rules” (143). It would be nearly impossible for sign language to be universal if each country contains their own sign rules in accordance to those who use it. The authors demonstrate how the word “birthday” is signed different in several states in America. There are even sign variations in relation to gender. The text illustrates how the sign for “night” was portrayed differently for men and women signers. Not only this, but it also depends on when the person was born. Sign differs by age because sign changes constantly over time. Older individuals who use sign for common everyday words will not be the same sign used by modern individuals. Many signs that were done with two hands have become one-handed signs.

With variations in sign, the authors argue that it would be impossible for sign language to be universal. There are ways in which deaf people in certain countries can communicate with deaf people of other countries. There may not be an international sign language, yet there is the American Sign Language (ASL). ASL heavily influences many countries that adapt it. This is what made the ASL present in countries that are not America. If you’re interested in witnessing how deaf individuals use sign language here is a video by Rikki Poynter, a deaf blogger, who explains the different sign languages and why sign is not universal. This video is significant because it is done by someone in the deaf community. There are subtitles attached for those who cannot understand sign language.

LeMaster, B and L Monaghan. (2004). “Variation in Sign Language.” In A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology. Pp. 141-165. Malden, MA: Blackwell.