Documentation of sign language diversity in Peru

Clark, Brenda
Clark, Brenda
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This paper discusses the major challenges in the documentation and study of sign languages in Peru, as well as some potential solutions. It also gives a brief prediction of the type of work that may be possible in the near future, both in terms of documentation and analysis, and in terms of strengthening the language through awareness and education. It is based on a recent scouting trip that assessed the plausibility and value of a long-term study. Some of the difficulties encountered are common to many documentation efforts and others are typical in sign linguistics, but the solutions must be tailored to the unique situation of Peru’s Deaf communities. In fact, simply being an outsider and working from a hearing perspective can be an issue, and aspects of this are seen throughout the specific topics discussed in this paper. The challenges can be divided into the following categories: 1) finding good informants despite conflict and lack of communication between organizations, 2) elicitation methods that encourage natural but consistent responses for comparative work, 3) ensuring reliable interpretation when the framework to train interpreters is, at best, in its beginning stages, and 4) dealing with variation, not only in dialect, but also in target and intermediary language fluency and in educational background. Despite the intervening factors mentioned above, the potential for future work is promising. The recognition of Peruvian Sign Language as a language is new to the Peruvian government and society. This leaves a clear opening for documentation as well as the creation of informative and educational materials for deaf and hearing children, adults, and future interpreters. Because sign languages are not typically acquired from birth, societal awareness and educational adaptation are fundamental in language maintenance, if not human rights. Beyond that, it is quite clear that several distinct dialects exist. The interaction between them and the exact factors influencing their distinctiveness would be a fascinating topic to explore. A preliminary look at a few speaker groups indicates that anything from region to age, to educational background, right down to a specific social group, can exert a significant influence. With careful documentation, it may even be possible to identify the origin of these varied lexical items, grammatical structures, and phonological features as native to the region or as loans from languages of education, religion, and relative prestige such as American and British Sign Language.
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