Mon. Sep 26th, 2022

When traveling through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, a request for chile on a cheeseburger will yield three different types of flavors. In the same way, a University of New Mexico graduate student is doing trailblazing research showing dialectic varieties of sign language in New Mexico and influences on signed communication.

Just as a person in Northern New Mexico may speak a different colloquial version of English than a person in Las Cruces, so it is that Deaf communities have different signs that are influenced by region, culture, environment, race, and ethnicity. It’s a concept that’s well-known in Deaf communities but has very little academic research to explain it.

“Often people feel proud of their language and their identity – and the same goes for the Deaf community. But there are some varieties of ASL that have received almost no attention  and we’re trying to get those recognized.” -David Player, UNM Linguistics

David Player is a Black Deaf graduate student in the UNM Department of Linguistics. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, he came to New Mexico after completing his B.S. in Sociology at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Inspired by groundbreaking research showing evidence of sociolinguistic variation in Black ASL, David is focusing his studies at UNM on sociolinguistics of signed languages. While teaching ASL IV in his first semester of graduate study, he saw students who grew up in New Mexico using a different sign for the word ‘lucky’ than he was used to. The New Mexicans told him that the sign he used for ‘lucky’ means ‘chile’ here – as in red or green. Eventually, he met more Deaf New Mexicans and they confirmed the NM signs for ‘lucky’ and ‘chile’ that he had learned from hearing interpreting students.

“What this told me was that there had been an adaptation in the sign for ‘lucky’ so that there’s not a confusion between the sign for lucky and the sign for chile,” he said.

With his background in Sociology, Player understands how sociocultural factors have an enormous impact on language variation as shown by the Black ASL Project. He is now looking to build on his knowledge to examine language variation in New Mexican ASL, carrying out unchartered research in perceptual dialectology – the study of how nonlinguists perceive variation in language.

“Most people think that the Deaf community is homogenous and it’s not,” Player said. “Where you grow up, the kind of education you received, the language exposure you’ve had – all of those things are factors and make language variation complex.”

In the entire United States, only one or two projects have attempted to document variation in ASL, and neither have focused on areas of the country with as rich history as New Mexico – which brings together Navajo, Apache, Pueblo, Spanish and Anglo cultures.

“Using traditional research methods on studies like …….


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.