Discourse Features of American Indian Sign Language
for 20 years in efforts to conduct eldwork among Native American com-munities who use the traditional Indian sign language (cf. Davis, 2010;Davis & McKay-Cody, 2010).
We have been conducting ethnographiceldwork and historical linguistic and sociolinguistic research in orderto illuminate several questions about American Indian signed languages:
What is the role and function of indigenous or village signed language?To what extent and in which domains do deaf and hearing members of American Indian communities use sign? What is the etymology of indige-nous signed language and how is it transmitted and acquired? What typesof lexical borrowing or code switching/code-blending exist between thesigned and ambient spoken languages of Native American communities?
Focus o this Chapter
The Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL) variety, which is central toour 2006–2011 eldwork project and ongoing linguistic research, en-compasses several dialects among Plains Indian cultural groups (e.g., theAlgonquian and Siouan linguistic families). As its name suggests, PISLwas at one time used predominantly among Indian cultural groups of theGreat Plains region of North America, spreading across a geographic areaof over 1.5 million square miles (4.3 million square kilometers)
an areain size comparable to the European Union’s 27 member states combined.
However, in modern times there has been a marked decline in the numberof American Indians learning the traditional signed lingua franca (PISL),which is now primarily known by hearing elders and American Indianswho are deaf.
Although PISL (also called
) is cur-rently considered an endangered language, we nd that it remains resilientand is still being learned and used by dozens of American Indians, andpotentially hundreds by some accounts (Marvin Weatherwax [Blackfeetscholar], personal communication, 2010).In this chapter I concentrate on the best documented historical andcontemporary cases, describe the linguistic properties of the PISL variety,and explore the various dialects and discourse functions of what I believeto be a truly “native”
sign language. The ndings reported hereare based on my ethnographic eldwork and observations from over twodecades of combined ethnographic eldwork
collaborating, interpreting,and participating in North American Indian communities
historicallinguistic research of legacy materials. The central focus of my collab-orative research (1990–present) has been and still remains document-ing, preserving, and studying traditional and contemporary varieties of
Roy_Part 4_Pgs 177-218.indd 1816/21/2011 1:22:57 PM