SASL Newsletter - Summer 2017 Issue Issue 6 - Summer 2017

The Power of ASL A Society Supporting Language, Literacy, and Performing Arts in the Signed Modality Summer 2017 A Newsletter of the Society for American Sign Language Issue 6 By James Woodward of University of Hawai`i at Mânoa and By Andrew P. J. Byrne Linda Lambrecht of Kapi`olani Community College (ret.) Of the more than 7,000 languages used in the world today, half are so endangered that they are likely to be extinct in 50 years. Hawai`i Sign Language (HSL), with fewer than 10 fluent users, is one such language. A small team of researchers at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa (UHM) has been documenting HSL part-time under a grant from The Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies. With James Woodward as Project Director and Linda Lambrecht as a fluent HSL user, we will answer the basic question about whether HSL is a dialect of ASL or a distinct language from ASL. HSL is a language isolate unrelated to any other sign language and developed indigenously in Hawai`i. It is most definitely NOT a dialect of ASL. This is clearly demonstrated through lexicostatistical comparisons of core basic vocabulary in HSL and ASL. Standard articles and books on historical/comparative linguistics point out (Crowley 1992; Lehmann 1992) that lexicostatistics is normally used for determining relationships across unwritten languages that are under-described or undescribed and for which relatively limited amounts of data are available (See Woodward, 2010 for a detailed discussion of how lexicostatistics has been applied to sign languages). Lexicostatistics compares for similarities in a basic core vocabulary list (the Swadesh word list) across languages. Basic core vocabulary includes many vocabulary items that are resistant to change (numerals, colors, kinship terms, animals, basic actions, etc.). If 80% or more of the basic vocabulary are similar, the two language varieties are classified as dialects of the same language. If less than 80% of the vocabulary items on the list are similar, they are classified as two separate languages. If 36% to 79% of the items are similar, the languages are classified as belonging to the same language family. If less than 36% are similar, they are classified as unrelated languages. For example, using lexicostatistics, Woodward (1978) found a 61% rate of cognates between French Sign Language and ASL, thus demonstrating that they are separate but >>>>>> (Continue on page 7) 1 The Power of ASL Summer 2017 – Issue 6