Sign and speech in family interaction: Language choices of deaf parents and their hearing children
Hearing children whose parents are deaf live between two linguistic and cultural communities. As in other bilingual families, parents and children make choices in their home language use that influence the children's competence in the minority language—ASL—and language maintenance across generations. This dissertation presents 13 ethnographic interviews of hearing adults with deaf parents and case studies of three families, two with two deaf parents and three hearing sons (ages 3-16) and one with a deaf mother and her hearing 2-year-old daughter. Analysis of the adult interviews reveals that—despite variation in community affiliation and sign language ability and practice—these adult children of deaf parents share a functional language ideology in which family communication potentially involves effort; putting in such effort is appropriate only to the degree that it overcomes communication barriers.
Analysis of the family members' code choices in two hours of videotaped naturalistic interaction at home was supplemented by observation and interviews. The families' children behaved in a manner consistent with the interviewed adults' functional language ideology, restricting their signing to times of communicative necessity. Using an analytical framework based on Bell's (1984; 2000) theory of audience design, I coded every communicative turn for the role of each family member (speaker/signer, addressee, participant, bystander) and for the communication medium (sign, gesture, mouthing, speech, etc.). The children consistently adjusted their code choices to their addressees, occasionally signing to their siblings, but always for an obvious purpose, e.g., keeping a secret. Only the oldest brother in each family showed any tendency to accompany speech to a sibling with signing when a deaf parent was an unaddressed participant. Between these fluent bilingual children, signing was available as a communicative resource but never the default option. Given that the hearing children even in these culturally Deaf families tended toward speech whenever communicatively possible, it is no surprise that children whose deaf parents have strong skills in spoken English might grow up with limited signing skills—as did some of the interviewed adults—and therefore restricted access to membership in the Deaf community.
Families & family life;
0628: Families & family life
0628: Personal relationships