Call for papers: Caribbean signed languages

Call papers


There have been frequent calls in the recent sign language linguistics literature for more research on signed languages outside of Europe, North America and Australasia. In many parts of the world we still know very little about the linguistic situations among Deaf communities. There has been a growing realization that signed languages are no more immune from language death than are spoken languages, and many small signed languages may be in danger of disappearing forever.

Until recently, very little was known about the linguistic situations of Deaf communities in the Caribbean. In the last few years, however, this gap has started to be filled. Overviews by Parks and Williams (2011) and Braithwaite (2014) provide an initial sketch of the region. We now know that there is considerable linguistic diversity. Rural sign languages have been reported in Providence Island (Washabaugh 1986), Grand Cayman (Washabaugh 1981), Jamaica (Dolman 1986), and apparently two more in Suriname (van den Bogaerde 2005, Tervoort 1978). There are emerging national sign languages such as Puerto Rican Sign Language (Frishberg 1987), Jamaican Sign Language (Cumberbatch 2012), Cuban Sign Language (Padilla Fernández 2007), and Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language (Braithwaite et al. 2011). Over the course of the twentieth century, American Sign Language, British Sign Language, French Sign Language and Sign Language of the Netherlands NGT were brought to the Caribbean, and Colombian Sign Language has been used in school in San Andres and Providence Island since the turn of the twenty-first century.

With the growing body of research beginning to emerge, the time is right to bring together information from across the region. We are therefore looking to put together an edited volume on the signed languages of the Caribbean, which we hope to publish with the University of the West Indies Press. In the first instance, we are inviting abstracts of 500 words. Because this is an emerging area of study, with several new projects and researchers, we have decided to have an open call for submissions. These will be initially reviewed by the editors, who will make initial selections. Once abstracts have been selected, they will be sent, along with a book proposal, to UWI Press. Assuming that this is accepted, we will then ask contributors to submit full chapters. These will then undergo a fuller peer review process. We hope to complete publication by the end of 2016. We are asking interested contributors to submit their abstracts by June 30th 2015.

Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Profiles of specific Caribbean signed languages;
  • Grammatical descriptions of (the phonology, morphology, syntax, etc of) specific languages;
  • Methodological and ethical issues in research on Caribbean signed languages;
  • Caribbean signed languages, human rights and community empowerment;
  • Historical accounts of the emergence and development of signed languages and Deaf communities in the Caribbean;
  • The role of signed languages in education in the Caribbean;
  • Language contact, including contact between two or more signed languages, and between signed and spoken languages;
  • Language endangerment, documentation and revitalization;
  • Teaching of signed languages in the Caribbean;
  • Sign language interpreting and interpreter training.

Abstracts should be sent to Please also contact us at this address with any questions, or requests for more information.

Warm wishes,

Ben Braithwaite, University of the West Indies, St Augustine
Alicia Lamb, University of the West Indies, St Augustine

Selected references

Braithwaite, B. (2014). Researching the languages and cultures of Deaf communities in the Caribbean. Tout Moun Caribbean Journal of Cultural Studies, 3(1), 1–17.

Braithwaite, Ben, Kathy-ann Drayton, and Alicia Lamb. (2011). “The History of Deaf Language and Education in Trinidad and Tobago since 1943.” History in Action 2 (1).

Cumberbatch, K. (2012). A Linguistic Description of the Language of the Urban Deaf in Jamaica. University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus.

Dolman, D. (1986). Sign Languages in Jamaica. Sign Langauge Studies, (52), 235–242.

Frishberg, Nancy. (1987). “Puerto Rican Sign Language.” Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness. 2. McGraw-Hill.

Padilla Fernández, L. (2007). El significado de los componentes manuales de la Lengua de Señas Cubana como sistema lingüístico. Universidad de La Habana.

Parks, Elizabeth, and Holly Williams. (2011). “Sociolinguistic Profiles of Twenty-Four Deaf Communities in the Americas.” SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2011-036:65

Tervoort, Bernard. (1978). “Billingual Interference.” In Sign Language of the Deaf: Psychological, Linguistic and Sociological Perspectives., 169–240. New York: Academic Press.

Van den Bogaerde, B. (2005). Everybody signs in Kosindo also? Deaf Worlds, (21), 103–107

Washabaugh, W. (1986). Five fingers for survival. Ann Arbor: Karoma.

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