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"Every nation has its own sign langauge."

Turkish Sign Language (TID), the national sign language of Turkey, has a history of 120 years which dates back to a period under the rule of Ottoman Empire. During that period, deaf individuals were easily employed by the Ottoman Palace. Because they were deaf, the palace trusted them as they could not leak any secrets of the empire to the enemies. Although they were called “mute” at the time, resources point out that most of these individuals talked among themselves manually. [1]

 

Since all languages persist through cultural transmission, language and culture are always intertwined. Today, deaf communities strongly identify themselves with deaf cultures. For instance, the use of “name signs” is a unique way of identifying a member of the deaf communities. Along with the registered official names, deaf community members frequently have a sign of their own used as a name. Additionally, the rules of etiquette for getting attention also differs between deaf and hearing communities. Deaf people tend to wave rapidly, knock on a surface, or switch the lights on and off to grab the attention of an individual. Furthermore, pointing is frequently used to refer to people, places, objects and so on. In TID like in many other sign languages, pointing corresponds to the pronouns in spoken languages. All of this, once again, shows us the richness of sign languages and the deaf culture.

[1] Dikyuva, H., Makaroğlu, B., & Arık, E. (2015). Turkish Sign Language Grammer. Republic of Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policies: Ankara.

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Huseyin, a 20-year-old fluent TID signer, is one of the deaf members of a big family. His father, mother, uncle, aunt and cousins all live together in different houses sharing a courtyard. The only hearing members of this big family are Huseyin’s grandfather and grandmother. Growing up with his cousins who are about the same age, Huseyin was able to improve his social and linguistic skills in this social environment. In fact, Huseyin has just graduated from high school and he sets an example for the young members of his family. Unfortunately, Huseyin could not land on a job yet. However, he does not seem to be discouraged. He spends most of his time reading and surfing the internet, while also making the time for his hobbies and socializing with his cousins. 

Melike, who is one of Huseyin’s cousins, has recently received her university degree in Computer Education. Just like Huseyin, she is also a fluent signer of TID and looking for a job. The first time Melike has left the village was when she got accepted to a university in another city. She tells us that during her freshman year, she called her father every day, cried her eyes out and told him that she wanted to drop out and come back home. However, her father pushed and encouraged her to continue her education. After that, Melike made new friends and started to build her confidence. With her friendly personality, she motivates our research team during experiments. As we set up the cameras, she shares her stories about her travels all over Turkey, and sets an example of perseverance for us all.

We conducted experiments with native Turkish Sign Language users prior to our fieldwork. Due to Covid-19 regulations, these experiments were either conducted in a safe setting (which was ensured by practicing social distancing rules, limiting the participant attendance, and only allowing one experimenter and assistant per experiment) or through webcams. As a team, we are grateful for our participants who wholeheartedly completed the experiments in these challenging times.

The names of the participants in this exhibition are anonymous in order to protect their privacy.