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For this rapid appraisal survey, we wanted to gain a basic understanding about the sociolinguistic situation of the Ecuadorian deaf community. During four weeks of fieldwork in January and February of 2011, our survey team focused on gathering information about sign language use and deaf identity in Ecuador in 11 cities in cooperation with national Ecuadorian deaf leaders and local deaf community members. In addition, we gauged the needs and desires of the language community for future community and sign language development efforts. Our research methodology included participant observation, sociolinguistic questionnaires, wordlist comparison, and dialect network analysis.
Initial results indicate that Lengua de Señas de Ecuador (LSEC) is the primary sign language of Ecuador, with significant historical influence from old Ecuadorian signs, American Sign Language (ASL), and a variety of sign language from Spain. Evidence points to geographical region and age being the two primary sociolinguistic variables influencing perceived and actual LSEC variation. Quito’s LSEC variety appears to be the most influential and easiest to understand variety and Quito offers the most resources and opportunities to deaf Ecuadorians. Government support of the deaf community is strong, and while LSEC still lacks official recognition, the Federación Nacional de Sordos del Ecuador (National Federation of the Deaf - FENASEC) and the entire Ecuadorian deaf community is committed to both community and LSEC development as currently evidenced by the current LSEC dictionary project.