Sociolinguistics: The study of language and linguistic behavior as influenced by social and cultural factors. -Dictionary.com
What do sociolinguistics study, they study the relationship between language and society. They are interested in explaining why we speak differently in different social contexts, and they are concerned with identifying the social functions of language and the ways it is used to convey social meaning. For the purpose of this paper I will be examining some aspects of Cultural, Regional, and Sociolinguistic Variation of American Sign Language (ASL) in the United States. ASL is a standard language, in that it is a written language which is codification, it is the recognized and preferred method of communication for the majority of d/Deaf individuals in the U.S.
It is not a known fact among many people that d/Deaf Americans are as culturally and ethnically different as the general population in the United States. This is a multicultural group that is different in more than just skin color and ethnic heritage. They differ across a variety of dimensions like degree, age, and extent of hearing loss, etiology, gender, and geographic location: country of birth, language use communication preference, occupation, educational level, and social economic background. Recent figures estimate that there are around 400,000 Deaf Americans (Fischer 2002). The majority are white Deaf. The Black, Hispanic, and Asian Deaf population has been at a steady increase over the last few decades. Many laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have impacted the Deaf community by making access to education, communication, and employment more achievable than in the past.
The increase in the ease of using technology, like the Internet, has impacted this community in many promising ways. All of these progresses and methods have played into the ASL linguistic variations seen presently in the U.S. We must also understand that ASL like any other language is a forceful system that is continuously in a state of change.In the book Orchid of the Bayou, by Catherine Hoffpaur Fisher, which tells the story of a Deaf woman who is also blind, is an excellent source of good examples of regional variations of ASL. She grew up in Louisiana and attended the Louisiana School for the Deaf. When she arrived at Gallaudet she noticed that New Yorkers did everything fast including signing. She also noticed that northerners made fun of the slow signs that flowed from the Southern signers, somewhat like how people make fun of other people’s accents or dialects.
Jackie Bruce mentions that Californians sign similar to New Yorkers. (2002) Fisher notices some phonological differenced in New Yorkers here: “Most of us finger spelled the letters M and N by curling our first two or three fingers around our thumbs, but the New Yorkers straightened these fingers, extending them sharply downwards toward the ground” (2001). I asked one of my friends why this was so and they said it can be due to two factors, one is lip-reading and the other one is the fast pace of life in New York and the East Coast in general (Smith 2002).
It seems that the environment as well as the way of life of the region impacts linguistic variation in ASL. The Southerners live a more rural and slow paced life therefore their signing matches their life style.
We know some, but not all, African Americans use African American English (AAE), an expressive and distinctive dialect of American English. The same applies to the deaf community. Here lies and example of both cultural and ethnic variation. As is the case for the hearing population in the U.S., the historical segregation in American communities and schools have played a major role in linguistic differences found between blacks and whites in the deaf community. Like their hearing African American