Linguist to explore Indigenous sign language


CDU Professorial Fellow Dr Dany Adone will present research seminars this week

CDU Professorial Fellow Dr Dany Adone will present research seminars this week

A linguist with more than 20 years expertise in alternate sign languages will talk on the importance of the communication system in Indigenous communities, aiming to raise awareness and dispel many of the misconceptions around it.

Charles Darwin University Professorial Fellow Dany Adone will present seminars on alternate sign languages and Bimodal Bilingualism (speech-sign) at the Northern Institute on Friday, 1 September.

“Alternate sign languages are different from primary sign languages in that they are used by hearing people as an alternate mode of communication,” Professor Adone said.

“In Western countries, hearing people normally learn sign language if they have a deaf family member or out of interest, but in many Indigenous communities the use of an alternate sign language is culturally dictated.”

Professor Adone, who is Chair of Applied Linguistics in the Department of English at the University of Cologne in Germany, started her work on alternate sign language with Indigenous communities after visiting Galiwin'ku, on Elcho Island in north-east Arnhem Land, between 1992 to 1994.

She has since worked with communities on Elcho Island, Milingimbi and Yirrkala on Yolngu sign language and on the various alternate sign languages used in Gunbalanya, Roper River, Croker Island (Minjilang), Maningrida and Bathurst Island in the Northern Territory.

“There are many misconceptions about what sign languages are,” she said. “Many people think there is only one sign language in the world, but just as every culture has its own spoken language, they also have their own natural sign language with their own grammar.

“These alternate sign languages are used on many occasions such as in everyday life, in ritual contexts, in reference to sacred sites, or whenever speech is forbidden and silence is requested.”

Professor Adone said bimodal bilingualism (speech-sign) played a significant role in communication within most Indigenous communities.

“Although bilingualism in Indigenous Australia has been studied, ‘bimodal bilingualism’ – which is the norm in Arnhem Land – is still not well known,” Professor Adone said. “Through our research we hope to raise public awareness and encourage people to keep using these forms of communication to preserve what is part of the First Nation's identity.”

On 1 September Professor Adone will present “What are Alternate Sign Languages? Well…they are Languages in their own right” from 10am to 11am and “Not Just Bilingualism!” from 11:15am to 12:15am at the Northern Institute, building Yellow 1.2.48, Casuarina campus.

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