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Applied Linguistics Review

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Deaf people with “no language”: Mobility and flexible accumulation in languaging practices of deaf people in Cambodia

Erin Moriarty Harrelson
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  • Department of Language & Intercultural Studies, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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Published Online: 2017-10-21 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0081


Deaf people in Cambodia are often represented in the media as lacking language but in reality, deaf people’s repertoires and communicative practices challenge essentialisms regarding modalities and conventional understandings of “language.” Drawing on fieldwork in Cambodia, this article examines how notions of an urban/rural dichotomy devalue the communicative practices of rural deaf people. These ideologies marginalize the creative deployment of various modalities by deaf people in everyday languaging that are not commonly indexed as parts of a linguistic repertoire. Communicative practices such as drawing a picture to communicate, gestures, the use of physical objects such as city maps are devalued because academics and lay people tend to have rigid conceptualizations of language. This article calls for closer attention to modalities such as gestures, the drawing of pictures and the use of physical objects in everyday languaging to interrogate how the “invention” of languages results in distinctions between groups and individuals, especially in terms of access to linguistic resources such as a national signed language and perceptions about the use of modalities other than signing or speaking. In NGO narratives, often echoed by deaf Cambodians themselves, deaf people acquire a signed language only after rural-urban migration, which misrepresents their communicative competencies and creative use of linguistic resources. In reality, deaf people’s linguistic repertoires are constantly expanding as they enter new spaces, resulting in the flexible accumulation of languaging practices and modalities.

Keywords: translanguaging; signed languages; multimodality


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-10-21

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0081.

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