The Sociolinguistics of Alternate Sign Languages of Arnhem Land

lcj-16Marie Carla Dany Adone & Elaine Lawurrpa Maypilama

LCJ: Special Edition: Indigneous Sign Languages, 16, pp. 14-25

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Adone, M.C.D., & Maypilama, E.L. (2015). The Sociolinguistics of Alternate Sign Languages of Arnhem Land. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts [Special Issue: Indigenous Sign Languages], 16, 14-25. DOI:



A look at the research done so far on sign languages shows a focus on the so-called primary sign languages, i.e. sign languages that are acquired by Deaf people as their first language. There is a substantial amount of studies on sign languages around the world, e.g. AUSLAN in Australia, Deutsche Gebärdensprache (DGS) (German Sign Language) in Germany, and American Sign Language in the States. More recently we note a diversification in sign language research, with an increase in sign languages other than the ones found in Western countries. We have studies on Jamaican Sign Language (Cumberbatch 2012), Mauritian Sign Language, (Gebert and Adone 2006, Adone 2012), Bhan Khor Sign Language (Nonaka 2012), Kata Kolok (de Vos 2012), Desa Kolok (Marsaja, 2015) among others. In spite of some effort to diversify the field, still very little is known on alternate sign languages. As these sign languages are underrepresented and under-documented in the field, we aim at providing some insights into these languages.

This paper is organized as follows. In section two we attempt at distinguishing the various types of sign languages.  In section three we give an overview of the sign languages in Arnhem Land as reported in the past and present. Section four describes the sociolinguistic contexts in which these alternate sign languages are used. Section five discusses some linguistic features shared by these alternate systems. Section six provides a brief conclusion and some thoughts for future research.


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