Investigating politeness in Asian sign languages  (2015)

Researcher(s):

Project Sponsor(s)

  • Office of the Vice President for Research
  • The University of Texas at Austin

Project Categories

A new collaborative endeavor between the primary investigator and researchers at the Japanese National Museum of Ethnology (国立民族学博物館), a.k.a. Minpaku, this project initiates investigation of politeness in Asian sign languages. More specifically, this pilot study undertakes first-pass description and comparative analysis of (im)politeness as it is cross-linguistically and cross-culturally manifested in Asian signing varieties in Japan and Thailand.

Contrary to popular myth, sign language is not universal. As with spoken languages, there are distinct and diverse signed langua-culture around the world. Misunderstandings about those signing varieties often derive from linguistic differences between signed languages and closely proximal spoken ones. Signing Deaf people in many societies are often deemed (too) direct and blunt, even rude, due to differences manifestations of (im)politeness in particular signed and spoken languages.

Regrettably, these misunderstandings represent obstacles for signing Deaf individuals vis-à-vis the larger hearing cultural norms.

This project will scientifically explore the linguistic and cultural sources of these misunderstandings and in the process promote core social work values pertaining to linguistic and cultural competence as well as social justice. The research findings and publications generated by this project will be cross-linguistically and cross-culturally informative and useful to multiple audiences and stakeholders, including: university scholars and students; professional sign language interpreters; and national communities of native Deaf signers. Additionally, this pilot study lays the foundation for a larger, long-term international partnership—one supporting future collaborative grant-writing, research, publishing, and other intellectual exchanges—between the principal investigator, The University of Texas at Austin, and Japanese academics at Minpaku.