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Emerging tactile International Sign in Europe

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Emerging tactile International Sign in Europe

People who see and hear little to nothing are deafblind. Deaf people who grew up with sign language and lose their vision, often transition to a tactile form of sign language: they touch and feel the signs that the hands make (Mesch, 2011). Sign languages differ per country, and tactile sign languages do too (Edwards, 2014; Collins, 2004; Willoughby et al, 2014; Mesch, 1998). When a deaf or deafblind person meets someone from a different language background, communication happens in International Sign, a mixture borrowed existing signs, iconic gestures and through portrayal of concepts (Crasborn & Hiddinga, 2015; Rosenstock, 2004). International Sign is very visual, and deafblind people will, among themselves, adjust and communicate in their own way. In the last few years, a community of young, mobile deafblind people has emerged in Europe: they meet during events and congresses for deaf and deafblind people. By repeated gathering and immersing themselves in tactile international Sign, the signs will take on a more established form, and new tactile sign conventions are born.  

This emerging community and language will also be compared to Protactile and the "Protactile movement" in America, where deafblind people take back autonomy in their life and language. The leaders of the movement inspire other deafblind people to make their communication and life more touch-centric and to promote autonomy. The Tactile American Sign Language is hereby abandoned for an ever-evolving and easier to understand tactile sign language, Protactile (Edwards, 2014; Granda & Nuccio, 2018).  

While studies have been conducted on sign languages and currently on International Sign, there is little research on tactile signing and no documentation (yet) on an international deafblind community or tactile signing across existing cultures and languages. 

Interactions, interviews, assignments, and discussions are recorded with film cameras: these films are analyzed to find and store new words and structures that arise, and create an International Tactile sign corpus. The corpus will be analyzed with ELAN to indicate elements that belong to visual and tactile sign languages, national and international sign, and Protactile to determine to what degree the European deafblind signers have adapted ‘their’ International Sign to fit. This data could also be used to observe the emergence and development of this new modality and language. The interviews and discussions focus on participants’ perspectives of self, and how they feel about their transition between sign language and tactile sign language (Kusters & De Meulder, 2019). The recordings will be analyzed to determine whether the perspectives and attitudes impact language development and community formation.

Finally, one of the aims of this study is to find appropriate research methods and explore ways to make research methods appropriate for tactile sign languages research: it is a tactile language and should also be approached and experienced with tactile, rather than visual, applications and methods. 

  • Collins, S. (2004). Adverbial morphemes in tactile American Sign Language [Doctoral dissertation]. Graduate College of Union Institute and University, Cincinnati. 
  • Crasborn, O. & Hiddinga, A. (2015). The paradox of international sign: The importance of deaf-hearing encounters for communication across sign language borders. In Friedner, M. & Kusters, A. (Eds). It’s a small world: international deaf spaces and encounters (pp. 59-69). Gallaudet University Press. 
  • Edwards, T. (2014). From compensation to integration: Effects of the pro-tactile movement on the sublexical structure of tactile American sign language. Journal of Pragmatics 69, 22–41.
  • Granda, A.J. & Nuccio, J. (2018). Protactile Principles. Tactile Communications. 
  • Kusters, A. & De Meulder, M. (2019). Language Portraits: Investigating Embodied Multilingual and Multimodal Repertoires. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 20(3). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-20.3.3239
  • Mesch, J. (1998). Tactile sign language: turn taking and questions in signed conversations of Deafblind people. DeafBlind Culture and Community. 42. 
  • Mesch, J. (2011). Variations in tactile signing–the case of one-handed signing. Eesti ja soome-ugri keeleteaduse ajakiri. Journal of Estonian and Finno-Ugric Linguistics, 2(1), 273-282.
  • Rosenstock, R. (2004). An investigation of international sign: Analyzing structure and comprehension [Doctoral dissertation]. Gallaudet University. 
  • Willoughby, L., Manns, H., Iwasaki, S., & Bartlett, M. (2014). Misunderstanding and Repair in Tactile Auslan. Sign Language Studies, 14(4), 419-443. 
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