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Title: History and documentation of old Hawai’i sign language and deaf lives in the past 
Author: Earth, Barbara; Lambrecht, Linda; Woodward, James
Date: 2013-03-03
Description: Prior to the arrival of American Sign Language (ASL) in Hawai’i, there was an indigenous sign language in use by the islands’ Deaf population. There are few firm facts about it, except that it is now almost extinct. It was probably the result of Deaf people from various communities (native and ethnic plantation villages) recognizing their commonality and sharing signs. Then it was strengthened following the establishment of a Deaf school in 1914. Even through a period of strong oralism, the old sign language was developed and used by students at the Diamond Head School (now Hawai’i School for the Deaf and Blind) but after ASL was introduced in 1941, ASL was promoted as superior and the old sign language has gradually been lost. Yet, there are a few old timers who remember and use it, mostly mixed with ASL. Its alphabet is different from that of ASL. There are many lexical variants from ASL, as well as features that we hope to describe.

The goals of the project are to 1) obtain knowledge on the history of the old sign language that predated American Sign Language on the islands; 2) document what remains of it; and, in the process 3) learn about the lives of the Deaf users of the old sign language. Fieldwork was conducted on four islands (Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Big Island) during 13-31 August, 2012. Nineteen older Deaf individuals participated in videotaped life story interviews; one group discussion was conducted; and two adult CODAs (hearing children of Deaf parents) were interviewed. Analysis is in progress. The paper will provide the background to the study, methods, and initial findings. Methodological issues encountered in the field will also be discussed.

The project is jointly funded by the Hawai’i Council for the Humanities, Gallaudet University, and UH-Manoa Dept. of Linguistics.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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