Rating the Vitality of Sign Languages (conference paper)

3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation, Honolulu, HI, USA, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Feb 28--Mar 3, 2013
21 pages
The Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale, or EGIDS (Lewis and Simons 2010) was developed to provide a rating of the degree of development or endangerment for all languages of the world, as reported in the 17th edition of Ethnologue. Based on Joshua Fishman's GIDS, it was originally designed with only spoken languages in mind. In order to apply it to sign languages also, a number of changes were necessary. These range from simple wording changes ("speakers" > "users"; "oral" > "face-to-face") to fundamental changes in the way certain levels are conceptualized. Intergenerational transmission and the factors that disrupt it follow different patterns in sign languages, so wording of levels 6a (Vigorous) and below were generalized to apply equally well to signed or spoken languages. Levels 4 (Institutional) and 5 (Developing) no longer focus on literacy, but instead on degree of institutional support, standardization, and availability of literature; criteria are proposed for distinguishing those forms of deaf education that clearly provide full institutional support at level 4. The role of interpreters in assessing the appropriate EGIDS level is clarified (their primary influence is at level 5), as well as what would constitute a sign language of wider communication (level 3). In considering language endangerment of sign languages, it appears that sign languages may in some ways be more robust than spoken languages (when confronted by threats from a dominant spoken language), but in other ways more fragile (when the threat of replacement is from another sign language, or in the face of factors that radically alter the number of deaf children available to learn the language). In revising EGIDS to apply to sign languages also, it is apparent that the sociolinguistics of signed and spoken languages, despite their differences, are sufficiently similar to be rated on the same scale, and that consideration of signed languages has deepened our understanding of spoken languages as well.
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language vitality
Language endangerment
Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale
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