Signing in a “Deaf family”
The iSLanDS centre starts an ELDP-funded Major Documentation Project on Mardin Sign Language, Turkey in autumn 2010.
Mardin Sign Language exists in a unique setting, a group of ca. 40 members of an extended family with a high incidence of hereditary deafness over five generations. The family name “Dilsiz” is the Turkish word for “deaf”, and the sign language is used by both deaf and hearing family members. The language originated in the town of Mardin in south-eastern Turkey, but users of the language now live in Istanbul and Izmir. Mardin Sign Language is undocumented and on the brink of extinction under the influence of Turkish Sign Language, the language of the urban deaf community in Turkey.
The project, funded with £74,000 by the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) in the Major Documentation Project category, aims to document the language comprehensively, taking into account the unique aspects of its community. For this reason, data collection includes narratives about the history of deafness in this extended family, including non-linguistic documents related to its heritage inasmuch permitted by the concerned individuals. We also compare the way in which the sign language was used in its original location in Mardin to the way in which it is used now, in order to understand the language dynamics in a community that is now in a state of diaspora.
The ELDP panel rated particularly highly that this project involved a deaf researcher from Turkey (Hasan Dikyuva) in a key position, and that we plan to document the language documentation process itself, which is an unusual feature.
For archiving, data will be deposited with the Endangered Languages Archive, in the iSLanDS Centre’s sign language corpus, and at a partner university in Turkey (Gazi University in Ankara).
This project dovetails with the EuroBabel project funded by EUROCORES, which investigates sign languages in ten different rural communities across the world, among them Mardin Sign Language (MardinSL). The aim of this Major Documentation Project is to provide additional resources, so that MardinSL can be documented comprehensively.