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The aim of this report is to provide thorough and reliable sociolinguistic information about the deaf
community of Portugal by means of a rapid appraisal survey. We targeted the two largest population
centers, Lisboa and Porto in October and November of 2011. Our goals included establishing contact
with the deaf community in Portugal, measuring language standardization among sign language users,
evaluating language vitality, comparing the sign languages used in the cities of Lisboa and Porto,
investigating current and potential project opportunities, and comparing the sign languages in Portugal
to languages in neighboring countries. Our team consisted of two American researchers who conducted
fieldwork over six weeks—four weeks of background research and networking in Spain and two weeks of
data collection in Portugal. Three tools were used to achieve our research goals: participant observation,
sociolinguistic questionnaires, and wordlist comparison.
Our initial conclusions are that Lingua Gestual Portuguesa (Portuguese Sign Language) is viewed by
Portuguese deaf as a single, unique language community. Members of this community recognize some
variation within the language, but stress that communication is never difficult. Geography was said to be
one cause of this variation, but is not confined to specific cities. Wordlist data suggests that age impacts
language variation much more than geography; also, the similarity of wordlists collected from younger
participants suggests that the language is becoming more standardized over time; many participants
expressed that standardization is favorable. Further study is needed to test intelligibility between various
regions, but if the language continues to standardize over time, differences are likely to become less
The Portuguese deaf community shows many signs of development and vitality. A strong network of
deaf associations and a national federation, full membership in the European Union of the Deaf, and
national events and marches all suggest progress and an active deaf population. We are unaware of any
large scale language development projects such as national dictionary projects or unified education
curricula, but our time spent with the deaf community leads us to believe that they would be open to
partnership with projects of this type, given full involvement by the deaf community.
All of our tools suggest that the sign varieties in Lisboa and Porto are mutually intelligible. Further
study is needed to determine the extensibility of publications in one variety or the other, especially in
more rural areas.
Initial research suggests that Portuguese sign language is significantly different from sign languages
of surrounding countries; LGP users cited borrowed vocabulary from languages of Greece, Spain, and
Sweden, but stated that the similarities are small. Contacts in Spain confirmed that sample data from
Portugal shared very little with Spanish sign languages.
Our research suggests that Lisboa, as the country’s population center, and identified by our
participants as the city with the most services and support for the deaf, would be the ideal location for
any large scale language development projects.