Sociolinguistic Variation and Change in Sign Languages

Adam Schembri and Trevor Johnston

in The Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199744084
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Sociolinguistic Variation and Change in Sign Languages


This chapter describes sociolinguistic variation and change in sign languages, the natural language of deaf communities. Factors that drive sociolinguistic variation and change in both spoken- and signed-language communities are broadly similar. Social factors include, for example, a signer’s age group, region of origin, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Linguistic factors include phonological processes such as assimilation and reduction, and grammaticalization. Deaf signing communities are invariably minority communities embedded within larger majority communities whose languages are in another entirely different modality, and which may have written systems and extensive written literatures, unlike sign languages. The chapter exemplifies sociolinguistic variation in signed languages at the levels of phonology, lexicon, and grammar.

Keywords: sociolinguistic variation; phonology; lexicon; grammaticalization; deaf communities

Article.  7949 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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