Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Deaf Ni-Vanuatu and their signs: A sociolinguistic study

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posted on 2021-12-07, 10:41 authored by Iseli, Jacqueline

This thesis provides the first documentation and description of the signs created and used by deaf individuals in Vanuatu. The specific aims of this research were as follows: to establish the sociolinguistic context experienced by deaf people in Vanuatu; to identify the repertoire and characteristics of signs used by the deaf participants; to compare features of participants’ individual signs with the characteristics of home signs and emerging sign languages; and to consider the degree of similarity and potential similarity of signs between participants and how this reflects individuals’ opportunities for contact with other deaf people and signing interlocutors. The limitations of this study are that field methodology for data collection was developed in situ as conditions allowed. The sociolinguistic context for deaf Ni-Vanuatu confirms that language isolation leads to marginalisation from community and society. The study established that these home sign lexicons were limited in quantity and conceptual range, and that shared background knowledge was essential for comprehension. Overall, 22 handshapes were documented, and the predominant handshapes unmarked. Most participants preferred handling strategy for depicting signs. Some evidence of noun-verb distinction was noted in the repertoire of some participants. However, across this range of formational characteristics, results showed significant individual variations. Furthermore, multiple barriers have precluded development of a shared sign language and any form of deaf community.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies


McKee, Rachel