Around the Deaf World in Two Days (It's a Small World):
Sign Languages, Social Issues/Civil Rights, Creativity

February 29 and March 1, 2008
Swarthmore College

Science Center 101
Swarthmore, PA 19081

All events are free and open to the public.

No registration is required.

We are grateful for the generous support of the William J. Cooper Foundation at Swarthmore College.

ASL and BSL Interpreters provided. CART services will be provided except at events where they would not be helpful.


Announcements (another poetry performance; request for proposals)
Baby Sitting
CEU's for Teachers, ASL teachers, and Certified Interpreters
Directions and Maps and PARKING (!!)
Exhibit Space



Friday evening, February 29

8:00 p.m. – Carol Padden, Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California at San Diego

  “Sign Language Geography: Creation and Spread of Sign Languages Around the World”
Padden discusses how political, cultural and social forces shape the pattern of sign language creation and spread in different regions of the world. She begins with a simple, but vexing question: How many sign languages are there? How do we survey sign languages and describe their life in different regions of the world? To contrast with the better known pattern of sign language creation and spread in Europe and North America, she discusses sign languages of the Middle East to show how ideas about culture, nations, and deaf people are involved in the life of sign languages. Finally, understanding patterns of sign language emergence around the world allow us to address intriguing questions about language complexity, language evolution and change over time.

Opening-Night Reception


Saturday, March 1

Morning Session

9:00 a.m. – Gaurav MathurAssistant Prof. of Linguistics at Gallaudet University

  “What are signs made of? Perspectives from sign languages from around the world”
Words like walking can be broken down into smaller units with meaning, like walk and -ing. What about signs? Can they be broken down into smaller units as well, and if so, what do they look like? Do these units look different across sign languages, and are they different from those in spoken languages? For clues to these questions, the talk will look at several examples like agreement, aspect, and numeral incorporation and compare them across a few sign languages from around the world, including Australian, German and Japanese Sign Languages.


10:30 a.m. – Panel: “Sign Language Linguistics”

Angela Nonaka
Deborah Chen Pichler
Ann Senghas
Marie Coppola
Sandra Wood

Angela Nonaka is Assistant Prof. of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her field work is primarily with rural communities that use sign languages indigenous to Thailand.
"Estimating Size, Scope, and Membership of the Speech/Sign Communities of Undocumented Indigenous/Village Sign Languages: The Ban Khor Case Study"
Sign languages are the forgotten endangered languages. The most neglected and threatened among them are ‘indigenous’ or ‘village’ sign languages. These language isolates spontaneously develop in small, pre-industrial communities with unusually large deaf populations, where, to borrow Nora Groce’s expression, “everyone speaks sign language.” Indigenous/village sign languages arise suddenly, spread rapidly, and disappear quickly. Their highly compressed life cycles lend urgency to and pose challenges for documentation, description, preservation, and revitalization. Where and how does one begin to assess the vitality/endangerment of a language when the language is undescribed; when the speech community’s size, membership, and boundaries are unknown; and when the language might disappear before a standardized assessment device can be developed? Some solutions to these dilemmas are offered by way of case study analysis of Ban Khor, Thailand, where an indigenous/village sign language developed some 70 years ago and where traditional anthropological methods of mapping, surname analysis, kinship diagramming, medical genetic pedigrees, and social network analysis were combined to develop a first-pass foundational description of the local speech/sign community, critical contextual information for projecting language vitality/endangerment.

Deborah Chen Pichler is Assistant Prof. of Linguistics and Interpretation at Gallaudet University.
“Signing with an accent: Second language (L2) ASL phonology”
With respect to L2 acquisition of signed languages, the global effect of nontarget-like phonology is often referred to as "an accent." Among skilled ASL signers, it is often assumed that new signers make a variety of phonological errors that clearly mark them as L2 signers. It is also assumed that native signers of other sign languages also make phonological errors, but of a different kind from new signers. There has been virtually no research investigating these common assumptions, despite the fact that they are fairly well entrenched in signing communities. This presentation investigates the contribution of one particular phonological aspect, handshape (in)accuracy, to the perception of accent in ASL elicited from two subject groups: (a) new signers with no previous experience with sign languages, and (b) native and near-native signers of non-ASL sign languages. This comparison allows us to begin to explore potential differences between what is commonly called "hearing" or "new signer" accent, as opposed to"foreign" accent, probing the degree to which previous experience in a particular modality affects phonological acquisition of ASL.

Ann Senghas and Marie Coppola. Ann is Associate Prof. of Psychology at Barnard College, and Marie is Research Associate in the Dept of Psychology at the University of Chicago.
“Getting to the point: The development of a linguistic device in Nicaraguan signing”
Over the past 30 years, Deaf Nicaraguans have come together to form a community, and in the process created their own new language. They started with the variety of gestures used to communicate with their families (homesigns), and together developed them into the complex linguistic system that is Nicaraguan Sign Language today. We will present some of the earliest developments in NSL (such as the linguistic use of the signing space) paying particular attention to the crucial contribution of child learners.

Sandra Wood is Lecturer in the ASL Program and the Psychology Department at the University of Virginia.
“The acquisition of Brazilian Sign Language by homesigners”
What are the necessary ingredients for learning language? In this talk, we look at this question by asking whether a homesigner can become native-like in their acquisition of a sign language. I focus on former homesigners who have learned or who are learning LSB/LIBRAS (Brazilian Sign Language) and compare them to other Deaf signers who learned LSB as a second language. We look at this question first with some assumptions about what allows homesigners to construct their own linguistic system. We will compare these two groups with respect to certain constructions that are hypothesized to be acquired only after exposure to the target language, i.e. topicalization. There is a marked contrast in how former homesigners acquire topicalization in LSB due to differences in age of exposure and degree of exposure to LSB. The implications of this finding, among others, are that these two components are necessary ingredients for learning language, which is supported by other studies as well. Furthermore, the study raises questions about what components homesigned systems and sign language share and do not share in their linguistic structures.




Afternoon session

1:00 p.m. – Amy Wilson and Nickson Kakiri. Amy is Associate Prof. of Educational Foundations & Research at Gallaudet University, and Nickson is a Kenyan Deaf activist and the Disability Mainstream Adviser to VSO Mongolia ( and Mongolia Federation of Disabled People Organizations
"Best practice for Collaborating with Deaf Communities in Developing Countries"
Deaf people in developing countries continue to face challenges such as negative attitudes toward deafness, the lack of access to an education and social services, lack of language accessiblity in their families and communities, and a lack of representation or recognition in and from their government. Many nongovernmental or faith-based organizations have taken the intitiative to "help" Deaf people improve their standard of living but do not work with Deaf people, thus resulting in a continued dependency on others. This paper will highlight the best practices of researchers and organizations when collaborating with Deaf communities to assist them in achieving their independence and an enhanced quality of life.


2:30 p.m. – Panel: “Social Issues/ Civil Rights regarding Deaf People”

Deborah Karp
Leila Monaghan
Karen Nakamura
Jun Hui Yang

Deborah Karp and Leila Monaghan. Deborah is a Deaf activist and Director of Deaf AIDS project in Landover Hills, MD, and Leila is Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Wyoming and runs the website
“HIV/AIDS in Deaf communities”

There is an HIV/AIDS epidemic in Deaf communities around the United States and internationally. We would like to present how the epidemic has played out in one specific case, the Maryland/Washington DC area, and the more general outlines of the epidemic in the US and globally. We will focus on the strengths the Deaf community brings to this fight such as peer to peer teaching, and what hampers outreach and treatment efforts including communication barriers, the stigma of AIDS, and lack of recognition and funding from larger organizations.

Karen Nakamura is Assistant Prof. of Anthropology and East Asian Studies at Yale University.
“Deaf in Japan: Signing and the politics of identity”

Japanese Sign Language (JSL) is in a moment of flux and transition as various elements within and outside the deaf community contest the creation of new terms into the lexicon and the structure of its grammatical system. The older generation represented by the Japanese Federation of the Deaf is trying to create new terms in order to compete with the national public television service at the same time as it is fending off criticisms from younger, cultural Deaf members. This talk will examine the language ideologies present in this complex situation.

Paul Scott is a Deaf poet and activist and BSL Development Manager at British Deaf Association. (See his photo below in the evening event.)
“Do Deaf children eat Deaf carrot?”

Jun Hui Yang is Lecturer in Deaf Studies in the Department of Education and Social Sciences at the University of Central Lancashire.
“Social Situations and Education of Deaf Children in China”
In Mainland China, socio-economic changes have had great impact on deaf and hard of hearing children and their families. With support from a number of sources – the national government, deaf organizations, and international collaboration – communication and language access for the deaf, support services and educational opportunities, and societal attitudes toward deaf people all have been improved. This talk will cover several topics: family issues, role models, sign-based bilingual education programs, availability and use of hearing aids and cochlear implants, and integrated education for deaf and hard of hearing students.


4:30 p.m. – "Eyeth": A creative performance by students from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf



Evening session

8:00 p.m. – Rachel Sutton-Spence and Paul Scott. Rachel is Senior Lecturer in Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol. Paul is one of Britain's foremost British Sign Language poets

  "British Sign Language Poetry"
British Sign Language poetry is an art form that shows the beauty and potential of sign language at its best. BSL poems reflect and celebrate the experience of a visual life through visual language. Rachel will talk about some of the techniques used in BSL to create poetic effect, and Paul will perform some of his original work to illustrate these techniques - and to entertain and delight.

Closing Reception




Students attending the conference are offered crash housing for free by our students.  If you are interested, you must bring your own sleeping bag.

There are several inns, motels, and bed and breakfasts in the vicinity of Swarthmore College.

Bed and Breakfasts (all within walking distance of the college):

The Longfellow House
Joane Cline, Proprietor
124 Park Avenue, Swarthmore
(610) 544-4588 or (866) 830-3111

Magnolia House
314 Harvard Avenue, Swarthmore
(610) 544-6779

Purcell Darrell House
Cathy and Chris Darrell, Proprietors
315 North Chester Road, Swarthmore
(610) 690-4421


Philadelphia Airport Marriott
1 Arrivals Road, Philadelphia
(215) 492-9000

Hampton Inn International Airport
8600 Bartram Avenue, Philadelphia
(215) 966-1300

Media Inn
E. Baltimore Avenue, Media
(610) 566-6500

Howard Johnson
650 Baltimore Pike, Springfield
(610) 544-4700



Paul Scott and Rachel Sutton-Spence will do a performance at Haverford College, in Haverford, PA.
Thursday, Feb. 28 at 4:15
Sharpless Auditorium, Haverford College
For more information contact Kristin Lindgren at

Recently the PA Developmental Disabilities Council (PADDC) requested assistance from organizations statewide to identify issues of interest to people with developmental disabilities that had not been addressed in the Council’s state plan for the year 2007 through 2011.
After careful consideration, the PADDC decided to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) on Communications/Accommodations for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. It was noted that people who are deaf or hard of hearing are often excluded from full participation in community life or even the deliberations of issues impacting upon the disability community.
With this request, the Council seeks to make various networks more pro-actively welcoming for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The RFP book with this objective is scheduled to be issued in March of 2008.
If interested in receiving a hard copy of the book, please contact the Council at PA DD Council, Room 569, Forum Building, Commonwealth Avenue, Harrisburg PA 17120-0025 or by telephone at 1-877-685-4452. You can also view the RFP book and the objective on Communications/Accommodations for people who are deaf or hard of hearing on the Council website in March of 2008 at
Haven’t attempted to write a proposal for the Council? The Council is offering workshops across Pennsylvania to assist interested participants in preparing a grant proposal for the PA Developmental Disabilities Council. Below are the following locations, times and date.
All will be 10 am to -12noon
Feb 25: Erie – Raymond M Blasco Memorial Library
Feb 26: Harrisburg – Sheraton Harrisburg/Hershey
Feb 27: Philadelphia – Crowne Plaza Main Line
March 3: Pittsburgh – Sheraton Station Square
March 6; Wilkes Barre – Best Western East Mountain Inn

Baby Sitting:

Swarthmore College does not have a child care center. If you need child care in order to attend, we will be happy to connect you with a student babysitter. All negotiations will be directly between you and the student. Please click here and put "child care" as your subject line.


Teachers can receive Act 48 hours (CEU's) for attending and participating in the conference. ASL teachers may acquire Clock Hours for ASLTA. For both groups, there will be forms for you to fill out at the conference. You do not need to do anything ahead of time and this is offered at no cost to you.

Certified Sign Language Interpreters may acquire RID CEU’s through the Deaf Hearing Communication Centre, Inc, at a small cost. Those interested should contact Maria Elia at least one week prior to the first day of the conference.

We are not an ASHA provider. Sorry.

Directions and Maps:

For directions to Swarthmore College, click:

For a campus map, click:

Please take Whittier Place to parking lot 17 (DuPont Parking). This is the closest parking area to the Science Center.

Exhibit Space:

Exhibit space is available at no cost. Please click here and put "exhibit space" as your subject line.


On Saturday the Coffee Bar in the Science Center will be open from 8:30 to 5pm. You can buy bagels with cream cheese, butter or jelly, donuts, danish, croissants and pound cakes. Breakfast sandwiches, sandwiches and salads.
Juices, smoothies, sodas and energies drinks. Cookies, candy and oatmeal.
There are also many relatively inexpensive restaurants within walking distance of or a short drive from each of the colleges.  However, attendees are invited to buy lunch and/or dinner in the campus dining halls.  The cost is $5.00 per person for lunch and $7.50 per person for dinner, and you can pay at the door.


This conference is organized by the Linguistics Department at Swarthmore College and sponsored by the William J. Cooper Foundation.
Co-sponsors include:

Asian Studies
Black Studies

Cognitive Science


Educational Studies

English Literature

German Studies

Latin American Studies

Modern Languages and Literatures

Political Science

Public Policy


Sociology and Anthropology