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‘Fields and Fieldability in a Protactile World: Social and Interactional Foundations of Language Emergence’

Wednesday, 22 March, 2017

Terra Edwards, Ph.D., assistant professor of linguistics at Gallaudet University will be the guest speakers at a Department of Sociology and Anthropology lecture at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, in Room 2720 at Morrissey Hall.

This presentation analyzes key social and interactional mechanisms driving a grammatical divergence between visual American Sign Language (ASL) and protactile American Sign Language (PTASL). The divergence was triggered by the protactile social movement which originated in the Seattle DeafBlind community in 2007 and since then has been spreading across the country.

Protactile leaders advance the radical claim that all human activity can be realized without the use of vision or hearing. As this movement has taken root in practices and institutions, DeafBlind people who were suffering from social isolation have found themselves embedded in novel patterns of interaction, discourse, and practice.

As they find new ways to talk within and about this world, the internal structure of their language is recalibrated to it. This process is leading to the emergence of PTASL, a new variety of signed language, rooted in the tactile and proprioceptive senses. Drawing on more than 10 years of linguistic and anthropological research and a recent pilot study conducted in collaboration with phonologist, Dr. Diane Brentari,Edwards offers a provisional outline of these novel grammatical systems, as well as discussing the utility of the field concept in accounting for their emergence. In doing so, Edwards aims to shed new light on more general concerns, including the social and interactional foundations of language emergence and the role of language and the body in naturalizing the social order.