Deaf Ni-Vanuatu and their signs: A sociolinguistic study
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.