Publication details [#64285]

Publication type
Article in book
Publication language
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins


Deafblind signing is a rather novel field of interest for sign language linguists, but one that is gaining traction internationally. As Hepp (1998) notes, up until the 1990s Deaf people who lost their sight were commonly told that they would need to give up signing and switch to another communication way like Print-on-Palm (basically tracing the letter of each word onto a person’s hand). Such methods are often obstructive and hard to employ and made it arduous for many deafblind people to stay active members of their local Deaf community. The growing uptake and acceptance of tactile signing gives a notable avenue of expression for deafblind people, as well as raising demand for specialist tactile sign language interpreters. In many places around the world, tactile sign languages are still evolving stable conventions, and interactions between two deafblind signers (in contrast to a deafblind person and a sighted signer, like an interpreter) stay somewhat confined. It will be interesting to see in coming years if and how conventions for tactile signing evolve in various places and whether the overarching trend is one of convergence or divergence between the different tactile sign languages globally. This paper also provides an overview of what is known about distinctive pragmatic strategies used by deafblind signers around the world, be they linguistic or non-linguistic. A dare in limning tactile sign languages is that a fulsome pragmatic debate must account for both the ways in which the language encodes linguistic information, and the ways in which deafblind signers might reinscribe or otherwise obtain pertinent interactional information that participants normally perceive via the visual or aural channels. One option is to employ linguistic means to make such points explicitly (like employing the lexical sign YES for back-channelling), but the paper examines a number of developing conventions that draw on what in an oral language environment might be termed “non-verbal communication”. Academic research around tactile signing stays rather meager and a number of queries remain about the level to which deafblind communities around the globe are replying in similar ways to the dares of tactile communication. To date, tactile American Sign Language (ASL) has drawn the most academic attention.