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Applied Linguistics Review

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Translanguaging in Yucatec Maya signing communities

Josefina Safar
Published Online: 2017-10-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0082


This article looks at translanguaging practices in four Yucatec Maya communities with a high incidence of deafness in the peninsula of Yucatán, Mexico. Deaf and hearing community members draw from a broad spectrum of semiotic resources to interact with each other and with people from other villages in the region: they sign with different degrees of fluency, speak Yucatec Maya and/or Spanish, gesture, draw, point and incorporate objects in their physical surroundings. Human beings have a general tendency to communicate between and beyond different languages and modalities and to creatively adapt their semiotic repertoires to each other to negotiate meaning. On top of that, I show that sociolinguistic and cultural features of Yucatec Maya communities scaffold translanguaging practices. The rich inventory of conventional co-speech gestures of Yucatec Maya speakers, positive attitudes towards deafness and signed language and a critical amount of shared cultural knowledge facilitate communication between deaf and hearing and contribute to the emergence of similar sign languages in historically unrelated communities. The investigation of Yucatec Maya signing communities through a translanguaging lens allows us to critically deconstruct existing classifications of sign languages and varieties. Yucatec Maya Sign Languages are portrayed as a multi-layered network of different villages, families, generations and overlapping deaf and hearing spaces, where translanguaging takes place.

Keywords: translanguaging; shared sign languages; Yucatec Maya Sign Language; multimodality; language attitudes


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-10-25

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0082.

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