Two languages at hand: Code-switching in bilingual deaf signers

Zeshan, Ulrike orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8438-3701 and Panda, Sibaji (2015) Two languages at hand: Code-switching in bilingual deaf signers. Sign Language & Linguistics, 18 (1). pp. 90-131. ISSN 1387-9316

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This article explores patterns of co-use of two sign languages in casual conversational data from four deaf bilinguals, who are fluent in Indian Sign Language (ISL) and Burundi Sign Language (BuSL). We investigate the contributions that both sign languages make to these conversations at lexical, clause, and discourse level, including a distinction between signs from closed grammatical classes and open lexical classes. The results show that despite individual differences between signers, there are also striking commonalities. Specifically, we demonstrate the shared characteristics of the signers’ bilingual outputs in the domains of negation, where signers prefer negators found in both sign languages, and wh-questions, where signers choose BuSL for specific question words and ISL for general wh-questions. The article thus makes the argument that these signers have developed a fairly stable bilingual variety that is characteristic of this particular community of practice, and we explore theoretical implications arising from these patterns.

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