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J. Albert Bickford, M.

Paul Lewis, Gary Simons


SIL International

3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and conservation


University of Hawaii
3 March 2013
Expanded GIDS (EGIDS)
Lewis and Simons 2010, based on:
Fishman 1991: Graded Intergenerational Disruption
Scale (GIDS)
Brenzinger et al. 2010: UNESCO language vitality
categories
Language status categories in Ethnologue 16
EGIDS was developed to provide ratings of
vitality/endangerment in Ethnologue for all languages
of the world.
Based originally only on spoken languages
2013/03/03 3:59 AM Rating the vitality of sign languages 2
What about sign languages?
Immediate issue:
Can EGIDS be easily adapted for sign languages?
Is vitality for the two modalities comparable?
Broader issues:
What similarities and differences exist between the
sociolinguistic situations of signed and spoken
languages in patterns of vitality, development, loss, and
revitalization?
How robust or fragile are sign languages?

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EGIDS design
Cf. Simons & Lewis presentation (this conference)
Elements:
Each level has a number, label, & description
Separate application guidelines
Level 6a Vigorous Use is the normal state of a
language (default value)
Two most important factors for determining levels:
Institutional support (levels above 6a)
Intergenerational transmission (levels 6a and below)

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Obvious ratings of certain SLs
Level 3 (Wider Communication): NAISL in the 19th
century
Level 6a (Vigorous): Many sign languages
Level 8a (Moribund): NAISL now
Level 10 (Extinct): Marthas Vineyard Sign Language

But, classification of others is not so obvious, and


required significant adjustments in definitions

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Problematic wordings
Speakers (levels 8a, 8b)
Users instead (also in level 6b)
Oral
face-to-face instead (levels 6a, 6b)
vigorous use instead (level 5)

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Intergenerational transmission
(parents) transmitting it to their children (levels
6b, 7)
Sign languages are learned mostly outside the home,
not from parents, but entirely from peers
Schools
Deaf associations
Key factor: whether children are learning it, not who
they are learning it from

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Role of literacy
Literacy and writing were used to define levels 4 and 5:
Level 4 (Educational): Literacy in the language
Level 5 (Written): used in written form in parts of the
community
Problem:
No sign language has widespread use in written form
Some sign languages do have strong support from
educational systems
e.g. Swedish Sign Language, Bagga-Gupta 1999, appears to be
level 4

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Literacy is not the key factor
What is distinctive in levels 4 and 5?
Institutional support for transmission to children
Published literature (not necessarily written)
Standardization

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Literacy is not the key factor
Spoken languages use writing to do these things
Sign languages accomplish them in other ways
Dictionaries and instructional materials (video, photos,
line drawings)
Mass media
Published literature (video, traveling public performers)
Interpreter-training programs and professional
interpreters
Institutions of higher-education for the deaf

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Distinguishing levels 4 and 5
Guideline for rating a sign language at level 4:
Most or all deaf education uses
a natural sign language (not a manual code)
as a primary language of the classroom (all participants)
by teachers fluent in the language
Level 5 (Developing) is an intermediate, transitional
stage between 6a and 4.
Some elements of level 4, but not all, or not widespread
E.g. ASL and many other national sign languages

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Host population loss
Sign languages depend on the existence of deaf people
When deafness disappears, so does the sign language
Marthas Vineyard Sign Language (Groce 1985)
Adamorobe Sign Language (Ghana, Kusters 2012)

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Host population loss
As the deaf population decreases, the language should
be rated at 6b, not 6a, even though any deaf children
who exist are still learning the language.
Population loss can also be a threat to spoken
languages: disease, warfare, tsunamis, or even just
migration
Reworded 6b: the language is losing users
Language shift: not all children learning the language
Population loss: fewer children to learn it

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Role of interpreters
In some countries, interpreters are legally required for
functions such as those described in levels 1-4.
This, however, does not mean the language functions
at those levels.
In the U.S., interpreters are federally-mandated in courts
for all languages of the world, but that does not make
them all at level 1.
Mainstreamed, interpreted education does not provide
the same level of support to a language that natural use
of a language in a classroom does.
Interpreters are relevant only at level 5

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Wider communication (level 3)
Paradigm examples:
19th century NAISL: use predominantly by hearing
ASL as a world language
What doesnt count as level 3?
Use by small numbers of hearing people associated with
a national deaf community
Village sign languages
NB: Ethnologue rates language vitality within each
country
ASL is level 5 in the U.S. (although level 3 worldwide)

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Robustness vs. fragility
How resistant are sign languages to language
shift/loss?
Hypotheses based on anecdotal evidence:
More resistant in the face of encroachment by dominant
spoken languages
Fragile in the face of encroachment by dominant sign
languages (e.g. village vs. national sign languages)

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Summary
Comparing the sociolinguistic situation of signed and
spoken languages, despite the difference, there are
many elements in common.
They can be rated together on the same vitality scale,
given the right assumptions and definitions.
Insights gained from studying sign languages
illuminate our understanding of spoken languages.

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Rating the vitality of sign languages
J. Albert Bickford, M. Paul Lewis, and Gary Simons
SIL International
3rd ICLDC, University of Hawaii, 3 March 2013

1. The EGIDS scale (Lewis and Simons 2010)


Based on Fishmans (1991) GIDS, UNESCOs language endangerment framework
(Brenzinger et al. 2003), and vitality categories in Ethnologue 16 (Lewis 2009).
LEVEL LABEL DESCRIPTION
0 International The language is used internationally for a broad range of
functions.
1 National The language is used in education, work, mass media,
government at the nationwide level.
2 Regional The language is used for local and regional mass media
and governmental services.
3 Trade The language is used for local and regional work by both
insiders and outsiders.
4 Educational Literacy in the language is being transmitted through a
system of public education.
5 Written The language is used orally by all generations and is
effectively used in written form in parts of the
community.
6a Vigorous The language is used orally by all generations and is
being learned by children as their first language.
6b Threatened The language is used orally by all generations but only
some of the child-bearing generation are transmitting it to
their children.
7 Shifting The child-bearing generation knows the language well
enough to use it among themselves but none are
transmitting it to their children.
8a Moribund The only remaining active speakers of the language are
members of the grandparent generation.
8b Nearly Extinct The only remaining speakers of the language are members
of the grandparent generation or older who have little
opportunity to use the language.
9 Dormant The language serves as a reminder of heritage identity for
an ethnic community. No one has more than symbolic
proficiency.
10 Extinct No one retains a sense of ethnic identity associated with
the language, even for symbolic purposes.
2. EGIDS revised to accommodate sign languages1

LEVEL LABEL DESCRIPTION


0-2 (no changes needed for sign languages)
3 Trade The language is used for local and regional work by both
Wider insiders and outsiders in work and mass media without
Communication official status to transcend language differences across a
region.
4 Educational Literacy in The language is being transmitted through a
system of public in vigorous use, with standardization and
literature being sustained through a widespread system of
institutionally supported education.
5 Written The language is used orally by all generations and is
Developing effectively used in written form in parts of the community in
vigorous use with literature in a standardized form being used
by some though this is not yet widespread or sustainable.
6a Vigorous The language is used orally for face-to-face communication
by all generations and is being learned by children as their
first language the situation is sustainable.
6b Threatened The language is used orally for face-to-face communication
by within all generations, but only some of the child-bearing
generation are transmitting it to their children it is losing
users.
7 Shifting The child-bearing generation knows the language well
enough to can use it the language among themselves but none
are transmitting it is not being transmitted to their children.
8a Moribund The only remaining active speakers users of the language are
members of the grandparent generation and older.
8b Nearly Extinct The only remaining speakers users of the language are
members of the grandparent generation or older who have
little opportunity to use the language.
9-10 (no changes needed for sign languages)

1
Some changes in Ethnologue 17 (Lewis, Simons and Fennig 2013) are noted here without comment or are omitted, as they are
not relevant to the issues about sign languages presented in this paper.
3. Reasons for revisions
Some wording was inappropriate, misleading or even offensive when applied to sign
languages.
Sign languages have a different and more complex mode of intergenerational
transmission; primarily from peers rather than from parent to child.
Widespread literacy does not exist (yet) in any sign language, yet institutional support
of education and standardization does exist. These things are what provides support to a
language at levels 4 and 5, not literacy per se.
Other factors besides language shift, such as population loss from eugenic or medical
practices, often threaten sign languages.

4. Other issues
The availability of professional interpreters, even if mandated by government, does not
satisfy the requirements for levels 4 and above.
Knowledge of a sign language outside its home deaf community (whether by hearing or
deaf) needs to be as widespread as spoken languages of wider communication to qualify
a sign language for level 3.
There are indications that sign languages are more resistant to replacement by spoken
languages, but less resistant to replacement by other sign languages.

5. References
Bagga-Gupta, Sangeeta. 1999. Visual language environments: Exploring everyday life and
literacies in Swedish deaf bilingual schools. Visual Anthropology Review 15.2:95-120.
Bahan, Ben. 2006. Face-to-face tradition in the American deaf community. In Signing the body
poetic: Essays in American Sign Language literature, ed. by H-Dirksen L. Bauman, Jennifer
L. Nelson, and Heidi M. Rose. University of California Press. Ch. 2, pp. 2150.
Brenzinger, M., A. Yamamoto, N. Aikawa, D. Koundiouba, A. Minasyan, A. Dwyer, C.
Grinevald, M. Krauss, O. Miyaoka, O. Sakiyama, R. Smeets, O. Zepeda. 2003. Language
vitality and endangerment. Paris, UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group Meeting on Endangered
Languages. Online: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/doc/src/00120-EN.pdf (accessed 2013-
02-24).
Davis, Jeffrey E. 2010. Hand talk: Sign language among American Indian nations. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Fishman, Joshua A. 1991. Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of
assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Groce, Nora Ellen. 1985. Everyone here spoke sign language: Hereditary deafness on Marthas
Vineyard. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Kusters, Annelies. 2012. The Gong Gong was beatenAdamorobe: A deaf village in Ghana
and its marriage prohibition for deaf partners. Sustainability 4.10:2765-2784. Online:
http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/4/10/2765 (accessed 2013-02-25).
Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas TX:
SIL International. Online version: http://archive.ethnologue.com/16 (not yet active 2013-02-
26).
Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.), 2013. Ethnologue: Languages of
the World, Seventeenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online
version: http://www.ethnologue.com. (accessed 2013-02-26).
Lewis, M. Paul, and Gary F. Simons. 2010. Assessing endangerment: Expanding Fishmans
GIDS. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique LV.2:103-120.
Winston, Elizabeth A. 1994. An interpreted education: Inclusion or exclusion? In: Implications
and complications for deaf students of the full inclusion movement, ed. by Robert C. Johnson
and Oscar P. Cohen. Gallaudet Research Institute Occasional Paper 94-2. Washington DC:
Gallaudet University. pp. 55-62. Online:
http://gallyprotest.org/implications_and_complications_for_deaf_students_of_the_full_inclusi
on_movement.pdf (accessed 2013-02-26).