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Arabic Sign Language: A Perspective
M. A. Abdel-Fattah Department of Languages and Translation, Birzeit University

Sign language in the Arab World has been recently recognized and documented. Many efforts have been made to establish the sign language used in individual countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Libya, and the Gulf States, by trying to standardize the language and spread it among members of the Deaf community and those concerned. Such efforts produced many sign languages, almost as many as Arabic-speaking countries, yet with the same sign alphabets. This article gives a tentative account of some sign languages in Arabic through reference to their possible evolution, which is believed to be affected by the diglossic situation in Arabic, and by comparing some aspects of certain sign languages (Jordanian, Palestinian, Egyptian, Kuwaiti, and Libyan) for which issues such as primes, configuration, and movement in addition to other linguistic features are discussed. A contrastive account that depicts the principal differences among Arabic sign languages in general and the spoken language is given.

spread, forming acknowledged sign languages. By and ` large, the view held vis-a-vis disability, including hearing, in the Arab society is still one of accommodation rather than assimilation. Downloaded from http://jdsde.oxfordjournals.org/ by guest on November 23, 2012

Arabic Sign Languages: Evolution and Relationship With Diglossia Arabic Diglossia: A Brief Account The term diglossia was first introduced by Charles Ferguson (1959, p. 336) in his article ‘‘Diglossia.’’ There, he defined the concept as A relatively stable language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language (which may include a standard or regional standards), there is a very divergent, highly codified (often grammatically more complex) superposed variety. The vehicle of a large and respected body of written literature, either of an earlier period or in another speech community, which is learned largely by formal education and is used for most written and formal spoken purposes, but is not used by any sector of the community for ordinary conversation. Ferguson referred to the first variety as L(ow) and to the second as H(igh). In Arabic, it is recognized that there exist more than two varieties. Yet, all will tend to belong to either L or H on a continuum. It is beyond the scope of this study to indulge in the issue of Arabic diglossia. However, for the sake of discussion, note that there are two basic varieties of Arabic: standard and colloquial. Sign Language and Diglossia

Arabic sign languages (ARSLs) are still in their developmental stages. Only in recent years has there been an awareness of the existence of communities consisting of individuals with disabilities; the Deaf are not an exception. Arab Deaf communities are almost closed ones. Interaction between a Deaf community and a hearing one is minimal and is basically concentrated around families with deaf members, relatives of the deaf, and sometimes play friends and professionals. As in other communities, communication with a deaf person is polarized within such circles. This situation has led to the emergence of many local means of sign communication. Until recently, such signs have not been gathered or codified. Signs are starting to

Correspondence should be addressed to Mahmoud Abdel-Fattah, Department of Languages and Translation, P.O. Box 14, Birzeit, West Bank (e-mail: mfatah@birzeit.edu).

It has been suggested that American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), and Danish Sign

Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education vol. 10 no. 2 doi:10.1093/deafed/eni007 Ó The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oupjournals.org

Arabic Sign Language: A Perspective

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Language (DSL) have diglossic features (Deuchar, 1977; Lawson, 1981; Stokoe, 1969). The...
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