Australian Aboriginal sign languages
Many Australian Aboriginal cultures have or traditionally had a sign language counterpart to their spoken language. This appears to be connected with various taboos on speech between certain people within the community or at particular times, such as during a mourning period for women or during initiation ceremonies for men – unlike indigenous sign languages elsewhere which have been used as a lingua franca (Plains Indians sign language), or due to a high incidence of hereditary deafness in the community (Yucatec Maya Sign Language, Adamorobe Sign Language and Kata Kolok).
Sign languages appear to be most developed in areas with the most extensive speech taboos: the central desert (particularly among the Warlpiri and Warumungu), and western Cape York. Complex gestural systems have also been reported in the southern, central, and western desert regions, the Gulf of Carpentaria (including north-east Arnhem Land and the Tiwi Islands), some Torres Strait Islands, and the southern regions of the Fitzmaurice and Kimberley areas. Evidence for sign languages elsewhere is slim, although they have been noted as far south as the south coast (Jaralde Sign Language) and there are even some accounts from the first few years of the 20th century of the use of signs by people from the south west coast. However, many of these sign languages are now extinct, and very few accounts have recorded any detail.
Reports on the status of deaf members of such Aboriginal communities differ, with some writers lauding the inclusion of deaf people in mainstream cultural life, while others indicate that deaf people don't learn the sign language and, like other deaf people isolated in hearing cultures, develop a simple system of home sign to communicate with their immediate family. However, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dialect of Auslan exists in Far North Queensland (extending from Yarrabah to Cape York), which is heavily influenced by the indigenous community sign languages and gestural systems of the region.
Australian indigenous sign languages in north Queensland were noted as early as 1908 (Roth). Early research into indigenous sign was done by the American linguist La Mont West, and later, in more depth, by English linguist Adam Kendon.
Linguistics of Aboriginal sign languages
List of Aboriginal sign languages
- Note that most Aboriginal languages have multiple possible spellings, eg. Warlpiri is also known as Walpiri, Walbiri, Elpira, Ilpara, Wailbri
- Arrernte Sign Language
- Dieri Sign Language
- Djingili Sign Language
- Jaralde Sign Language
- Kaititj: Akitiri Sign Language
- Manjiljarra Sign Language
- Mudbura Sign Language
- Murngin Sign Language
- Ngada Sign Language
- Torres Strait Islander Sign Language
- Warlpiri Sign Language
- Warumungu [or Warramunga] Sign Language
- Western Desert Sign Language (Yurira Watjalku)
- Worora Kinship Sign Language
- ↑ Kendon, A. (1988) Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia: Cultural, Semiotic and Communicative Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 60
- Kwek, Joan / Kendon, Adam (1991). Occasions for sign use in an Australian aboriginal community. (with introduction note by Adam Kendon). In: Sign Language Studies 20: 71 (1991) - pp. 143-160
- Kendon, A. (1988) Sign Languages of Aboriginal Australia: Cultural, Semiotic and Communicative Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. xviii+ 542. (Presents the results of the research on Australian Aboriginal sign languages that the author began in 1978. The book was awarded the 1990 Stanner Prize, a biennial award given by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, Australia. Reviews include: Times Literary Supplement, August 25-31 1989; American Anthropologist 1990, 92: 250-251; Language in Society, 1991, 20: 652-659; Canadian Journal of Linguistics, 1990, 35(1): 85-86)
- Roth, W.E (1908), Miscellaneous Papers, Australian Trustees of the Australian Museum. Sydney.
- O'Reilly, S. (2005). Indigenous Sign Language and Culture; the interpreting and access needs of Deaf people who are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in Far North Queensland. Sponsored by ASLIA, the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association.
Warlpiri sign language:
- Mountford, C. P. (1949). Gesture language of the Walpari tribe, central Australia. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 1949, 73: 100-101.
- Meggitt M.J. (1954). Sign language among the Warlpiri of Central Australia. Oceania, 25(1), p. 2-16.
- Wright, C.D. (1980). Walpiri Hand Talk: An Illustrated Dictionary of Hand Signs used by the Walpiri People of Central Australia. Darwin: N.T. Department of Education.
- Kendon, A. (1980). The sign language of the women of Yuendumu: A preliminary report on the structure of Warlpiri sign language. Sign Language Studies, 1980 27, 101-112.
- Kendon, A. (1984). Knowledge of sign language in an Australian Aboriginal community. Journal of Anthropological Research. 1984 40, 556-576.
- Kendon A. (1985). Iconicity in Warlpiri Sign language. In Bouissac P., Herzfeld M. & Posner R. (eds), Inconicity: Essay on the Nature of Culture. TÅbingen: Stauffenburger Verlag. In press, p. .
- Kendon, A. (1985). Variation in Central Australian Aboriginal Sign language: A preliminary report. Language in Central Australia, 1(4): 1-11.
- Kendon, A. (1987) Simultaneous Speaking and Signing in Warlpiri Sign language Users. Multilingua 1987, 6: 25-68.
- Kendon A. (1988). Parallels and divergences between Warlpiri sign language and spoken Warlpiri: analyses of signed and spoken discourses. Oceania, 58, p. 239-54.
Torres Strait Islander sign language
- Haddon, Alfred C. (1907). The gesture language of the Eastern Islanders, in "Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits." Cambridge, England: The University Press, v.3.
- Seligman, C. G., and A. Wilkin (1907). The gesture language of the Western Islanders, in "Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits." Cambridge, England: The University Press, v.3.
Original researchers' notes archived at the IATSIS library:
- Hale, Ken (c1960s), Original handwritten lexical list, 3pp.; notes on ‘Kaititj: akitiri sign language’, 3pp. in IATSIS library, MS 4114 Miscellaneous Australian notes of Kenneth L. Hale, Series 2 Barkly Tablelands language material, item 1-2 Wampaya [Wambaya (C19)].
- West, La Mont (Monty), (1963-66), original field report and papers ‘Sign language’ and ‘Spoken language’, and vocab cards, Items 1-2 in IATSIS library, MS 4114 Miscellaneous Australian notes of Kenneth L. Hale, Series 7: Miscellaneous material, Items 1-3 Correspondence 1963-1966
From "Aboriginal sign languages of the Americas and Australia. Vol. 2." 1978. New York: Plenum Press:
- Roth, Walter E. (1897). The expression of ideas by manual signs: a sign-language. (p.273-301) Reprinted from Roth, W.E. Ethnological studies among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines. London, Queensland Agent-Generals Information Office, 1897; 71-90; Information collected from the following tribes; Pitta-Pitta, Boinji, Ulaolinya, Wonkajera, Walookera, Undekerebina, Kalkadoon, Mitakoodi, Woonamurra, Goa.
- Strehlow, Carl (1915). The sign language of the Aranda. (p.349-370). Extracted from Die Aranda-und-Loritja-Stamme in Zentral-Australien, Frankfurt: Baer; translated by C. Chewings.
- Warner, W. Lloyd (1937). "Murngin Sign Language." (p.389-392) Extracted from A Black Civilization. New York: Harper and Row, 1937.
- Mountford, C.P. (1938). Gesture language of the Ngada tribe of the Warburton Ranges, Western Australia. (p.393-396). Originally published in Oceania, 1938, 9: 152-155.
- Berndt, R.M. (1940). Notes on the sign-language of the Jaralde tribe of the Lower River Murray, South Australia. (p.397-402)
- Love, J.R.B. (1941). Worora kinship gestures. (p.403-405)
- Meggitt, Mervyn (1954). Sign language among the Walbiri of Central Australia. (p.409-423) Originally published in Oceania (see above).
- Miller, Wick R. (1978). A report on the sign language of the Western Desert (Australia). (p.435-440)
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