Web Analytics
 

"Rare sign languages that have emerged from scratch."

Village sign languages are emerging languages used by both deaf and hearing individuals within a local population in which congenital deafness is common. Village sign languages differ from family sign languages in that village sign languages are used more broadly among the members of a local community. These types of languages are rare to find in the world. Today, there are about a dozen village sign languages studied for their linguistic organization.

Dr Rabia Ergin and CTSL signers at the old village center

press to zoom

press to zoom

press to zoom

Dr Rabia Ergin and CTSL signers at the old village center

press to zoom
1/3

These languages are important data sources particularly when the first generation of deaf individuals, the creators of the language, are alive today. This allows us the have access to the very beginning of a natural human language. Moreover, the presense of multiple generations of language users in the community provides us with the opportunity to track the development of a language in its initial stages by comparing the linguistic structures used across generations. 

 

One of such village sign languages is Central Taurus Sign Language (CTSL), which has started to emerge in 1970s in an isolated village located in the Central Taurus mountains of Turkey. Among the factors leading to the emergence of this particular village sign language are its small and self-contained population as an outcome of social, financial and geographical factors, marriage between relatives, and the small gene pool due to inbreeding. CTSL is a valuable database as multiple generations are simultaneously present in the community and the very first creators of this language are still alive as of today.

A view of the Taurus Mountains, as seen from the old village center.

press to zoom

press to zoom

Original stone houses.

press to zoom

A view of the Taurus Mountains, as seen from the old village center.

press to zoom
1/3

As previously mentioned above, there is a limited number of other emerging sign languages, similar to CTSL, in the world. One of the best-known emerging sign languages is Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL), which is used in Al-Sayyid village and its vicinity located in Najaf Desert in Israel. Additionally, Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL) is another example of an emerging sign language, although it is not a village sign system. Due to the lack of a national sign language of Nicaragua in the 1970s, deaf children different regions of the country, who had no access to any developed form of language, came together for the first time in a new school for deaf children in Managua, initiating the emergence of a spontaneous sign language. As the NSL still evolves today, it is now on its way to become an advanced sign system with over a thousand users.

The old village center is an invaluable cultural asset.

press to zoom

press to zoom

Conducting experiments outside was a measure our team took due to Covid-19 pandemic.

press to zoom

The old village center is an invaluable cultural asset.

press to zoom
1/3

In addition to ABSL and NSL, there are other spontaneously emerging sign languages identified in the scientific literature, such as, but not limited to, Kafr Qasem Sign Language (KQSL) in Israel and Várzea Queimada Sign Language (VQSL) in Brazil. If you are interested, there is a complete list of village sign languages identified on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_sign_language)

Hatice, who lives in the old village center, is one of the first-generation deaf members of the community. Therefore, she is one of the creators of CTSL. She greets us in her house, located high up in the mountains next to a natural spring. Hatice has a very tight schedule as she goes out to feed her animals every afternoon, yet she generously spares time for our research team. The fact that she changed into a pink blouse before getting in front of the cameras for the experiments shows us the importance she gives to her guests, which we will always be grateful for.

Nese, Hatice's cousin, is also a first generation CTSL signer. Hatice and Nese grew up together and initiated the emergence of CTSL as a collective effort. Upon getting married to a deaf person early in 2010s, Nese moved to a nearby village that is only 10 km away. She welcomes our team with great joy and enjoys having guests in her house.

Melek is the younger sister of Hatice and because she grew up in an environment where a sign language was already developing, she is considered one of the second generation signers. She lives in the same house with her deaf husband and hearing children. As a family, they rely on agriculture and livestock breeding for make their living, and they often get together with their other relatives in the village. Her performance during the field work experiments proves that she is one of the most creative individuals in finding novel solutions to complex language structures. One of the photos above demonstrates how she points to abstract locations in the signing space for positioning human characters in her message that she intends to convey unambiguously.  

Emine is another member of the second generation. Just like Hatice, and unlike many who moved three kilometers away to the roadside, she still lives in the old village center. The old center surrounded by the historical stone houses is the original location where the CTSL users have once lived side by side and created their own village sign language. Emine is one of the last deaf members of the community living in the old center. She lives with her mother, husband and daughter in her two-room stone house, decorated with more than a century-old wood closets inside.

Selim and Zeynep, second generation CTSL signers, are the deaf parents of three deaf girls. This is a deaf family of five. Recently, due to new job opportunities, they have left the village and moved in one of the nearby central districts. However, they now have to deal with the difficulties of maintaining a life in a hearing community. Elif and Dilek, who are 9 and 7 years old respectively, still do not have the chance to become a part of a deaf community and to meet with fluent signers of Turkish Sign Language to get a proper education. The two are the only deaf students in a school for hearing children. When they are in their comfort zone at home, they gladly introduce themselves in CTSL. After waiting in a shy and well-mannered way, when it is their turn to participate in the experiments in their native sign language, the mastery of their hands covered in henna, their gestures and fluency demonstrate the power of being exposed to a sign language from very early on at home. Regardless of being hearing or deaf, we can already see how much they enjoy communicating with other people. At the end of the day, the family prepares a remarkable dinner for our research group.
 

Leyla belongs to the third generation of CTSL. She likes to spend her time by working on her artistic creations on the balcony of her house, surrounded by the view of the Taurus mountains. She constantly communicates with her brother Ali, who is a hearing bimodal bilingual, which easily shows how far this village sign language has come in comparison to communication between older generations, and how two young minds in the same house create a fruitful space for the language to develop.

Melek's son Metin, is a hearing person who grew up as the child of deaf parents. Just like his cousin Leyla, he is a third-generation CTSL signer. He uses CTSL within the family and Turkish outside the family. He has made countless contributions to our research team during all of our field trips since 2013. He again contributes a lot to our field trip conducted in September 2020 with all of his enthusiasm, energy, and his excellent command on both CTSL and Turkish. 

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