Scoring sign language vitality: Adapting a spoken language survey to target the endangerment factors affecting sign languages

Date
2019-08
Authors
Webster, Jenny
Safar, Josefina
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Publisher
University of Hawaii Press
Abstract
This article explores factors affecting the vitality/endangerment levels of sign languages, and how these levels were assessed through an international collaboration using a systematic scoring scheme. This included adapting UNESCO’s Linguistic Vitality and Diversity survey and developing a system for determining endangerment levels based on the responses. Other endangerment scales are briefly explored along with UNESCO’s, and the survey adaptation and systematic scoring processes are explained. The survey needed to be carefully adapted because even though many spoken language procedures can be also used for sign languages, there are additional challenges and characteristics that uniquely affect sign language communities. The article then presents the vitality scores for 15 languages, including both national and village sign languages, and the major factors threatening their vitality. The methodology of scoring based on averages is innovative, as is the workflow between the questionnaire respondents and scoring committee. Such innovations may also be useful for spoken languages. Future efforts might develop best practice models for promoting sign language vitality and compile diachronic data to monitor changes in endangerment status. The findings can also inform policy work to bring about legal recognition, greater communication access, and the protection of deaf signers’ linguistic and cultural identity.
Description
Keywords
sign languages, language vitality, language endangerment, surveys
Citation
Webster, Jenny & Josefina Safar. 2019. Scoring sign language vitality: Adapting a spoken language survey to target the endangerment factors affecting sign languages. Language Documentation & Conservation 13: 346-383.
Rights
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