Written by Michele Bishop and Sherry Hicks
For Codas everywhere
Different aspects of bilingualism have been studied all over the world, (Grosjean 1982, Hornberger 1987, Romaine 1989, Zentella 1997, Wei 2000, King 2000, Ohara 2001, Pavlenko & Piller 2001, Piller 2002, Jaffe 2003). These studies have looked at a wide range of topics in spoken language bilinguals such as patterns of code switching, the role of code switching in community life, the success or failure of bilingual education, and second language learning and gender as well as many other issues; all focusing on single modality bilinguals (using two spoken languages). These studies are often not applicable to the study of bimodal bilingualism in which the person knows a sign language from birth and the spoken language of the larger, hearing society. The study of bilingualism in hearing people from deaf families offers an opportunity to analyze how native users of both a signed and a spoken language combine aspects of both languages simultaneously (code blending). The perceived lower status of American Sign Language in relation to English may also contribute to how these bimodal bilinguals view and use their languages. Unlike spoken language bilinguals who must stop one language before beginning another, a bimodal bilingual has the capability to speak and sign at the same time. This linguistic capability will serve to inform and expand the field of bilingualism, discourse analysis and the role of code blending as a cultural identifier. This preliminary research focuses on emails taken from a forum on the Internet for hearing people with deaf parents. Two hundred and seventy five lines from one hundred emails were collected and analyzed. The study shows evidence of strong ASL grammatical influence in these emails (an absence of overt subjects, overt objects, determiners, copula, prepositions) as well as unique structures (nonstandard verb inflections, overgeneralization of, syntactic calquing). There is also a strong tendency to use English to describe an ASL sign; i.e. “My father fork-in-throat.” The meaning of that sign fork-in-throat is “stuck” but the bilingual chooses to use the visual description of the sign instead of the English lexical equivalent (note the absence of copula). The overall results of this analysis are compared to Internet Relay Chat as described by Werry and Mowbray (2001), and TDD writings (telecommunications device for deaf people) (Mather 1991).
Hearing children from deaf families, codas1, represent a relatively invisible linguistic and cultural minority. Many hearing people are unaware of the fact that American Sign Language is a separate language with its own grammatical structure unlike that of English. This misconception has led to an emphasis on oral education for deaf people in this country that in turn has created a stronger connection between the deaf community and American Sign Language (Lane et. al 1996, Lane 1993, Ladd 2002). Codas grow up as a part of the deaf community and learn ASL as their first language2. Intense interest in sign and spoken language bilingualism has led to a focus on mother-child dyads rather than adult bilinguals. Studies have found that deaf mothers speak as well as sign to their deaf and hearing children (Meadow-Orlans 1997; Maestas y Moores 1980; Schiff 1976; Mills and Coerts 1989; Moores and Moores 1982; Bogaerde 2000; Rodriquez 2001, Petitto et al. 2001). Bogaerde (2003) studies the mixed language input of six deaf mothers with their hearing and deaf children. Bogaerde suggests that hearing children are getting an input comprised of a third system that combines both spoken Dutch and the sign language of the Netherlands (NGT). Though beyond the scope of this study, the larger question remains whether this maternal mixed language input during childhood is one of the main influences on the later emergence of coda talk in adults.
Hearing bimodal bilinguals have been missing to some degree from the body of linguistic research on bilingualism perhaps due to the relatively recent recognition of sign languages as full human languages by the linguistic community. Bilingual studies of hearing people from deaf families offer researchers a chance to see the simultaneous production of two distinct languages that is obviously quite different than the bilingualism of people with two spoken languages. The relationship of one language to another is not well understood. Does one code influence the other? Under what circumstances are the codes blending? Do these bimodal bilinguals codeswitch or code-blend? What significance does code blending have for this bilingual community? This paper attempts to address these issues as well as discuss the stigma attached to bilingualism in general and bimodal bilingualism specifically. A parallel is drawn between marginalized Spanish/English bilinguals in New York City and the oppression of the Deaf community and ASL. There is a brief discussion of how stigma manifests in language attitudes and cultural identity and the role it may play in the formation of a systematic code-blending in the coda community. The last section looks at features of coda writing and the characteristics of coda-talk.
2. CULTURALLY DEAF
In order to understand the development of a linguistic identity in the hearing child born into a deaf family, it is crucial to understand two main points: that there is a Deaf3 culture which differs from hearing culture and that hearing children do not see themselves as different from their parents (or deaf siblings in some cases) until they get older (Lane et. al 1996). From a deaf perspective, their hearing children are essentially deaf because they understand and assimilate to these cultural norms. Codas are considered to be deaf in everyway except for the experience of not being able to hear (Lane et. al 1996). From a hearing perspective, Deaf cultural values and norms are usually not recognized or understood (Preston 1994). This ignorance about deaf people extends to their sign language as well, evidenced by the historical emphasis on oral education for deaf children and the resistance to early exposure to ASL for deaf children. This societal bias also affects the hearing children from deaf families, as these children are often not perceived as being bicultural or bilingual by hearing society. The misunderstandings that inevitably arise are due to the mutual ignorance of hearing and deaf people concerning one another’s cultures. The children often become the intermediaries between their parents and hearing people. The pull between deaf and hearing people forces that child to identify herself in relationship to two opposing worlds; creating a tension between the child’s deaf and hearing parts.
“When I’m sitting in a room or walking down the street, people look at me and they see this hearing person. That’s all they see. But just beneath the surface, there’s this deaf person. I’m not talking about hearing loss; I’m talking about a whole way of being. The real me is Deaf. If you want to know me, you’ve got to know that part of me.”
(Preston 1994: p, 216)
There are also subtle behavioral differences in the Deaf community compared to American society in general such as the amount of time one holds eye-contact, the grammatical as well as affective role of facial expression, the amount of interpersonal distance, the manner in which one greets others or leaves a social setting, the definition of politeness, the group approach to decision-making, and how one understands privacy and confidentiality (Harlan et al. 1996). Children naturally learn these behaviors and carry many of them into adulthood, often without being aware of their presence. Preston (1994) interviewed 150 hearing adults with deaf families from various regions of the United States and found these behaviors do have an impact on coda/hearing relationships. In a visual language such as ASL, prolonged eye contact is a natural part of communication compared to hearing people who are quite capable of carrying on a conversation while driving or cooking without more than an occasional glance at the other person. Many interviewees mentioned that prolonged eye contact often made hearing people feel uncomfortable, and several had learned not to use it as much (Preston 1994). The desire for eye contact and face-to-face communication can be challenging for a hearing person. The following excerpt between a coda man and his hearing wife illustrates this point:
“Barbara was always talking to me from the other room. And every time, I would go into the room and say, I can’t understand a thing you’re saying. And she said, “Well, I’ll just talk louder.” And I said, “No, you don’t understand, I need to see you in order to understand what you’re saying.” (Preston 1994:136)
It is for this reason that the study of codas and their bimodal bilingualism has to include understanding the role of oppression of deaf people and their language, the emphasis on monolingualism in the United States and societal bias against sign language. The idea that sign languages are not natural languages but visual representations of spoken languages continues to this day. Because language is so integral to one’s identity, (Grosjean 1982, Pierce 1995, McKay & Wong 1996, Zentella 1997, King 2000, Bonner 2001), codas cannot separate their deaf identify from ASL not their hearing identity from English. This is perhaps the first step in understanding how code-blending may play a significant role a natural cultural identifier for these bimodal bilinguals.
3. GETTING ORGANIZED
From 1980-1982, Millie Brother4, then a graduate student at Gallaudet University5, began interviewing people like herself who were hearing with deaf parents. What began as a brief survey to collect data for a paper, turned into many long conversations about shared experiences and childhood stories.6 The following year, Brother started a “CODA” newsletter. The acronym, CODA was inspired by the definition of the musical term. In 1986, the first CODA conference was held in Fremont, California at the California School for the Deaf. One hundred people came and the conference included both deaf and hearing people. The conference remained open to deaf and hearing people through 1989 at which point a decision was made by the members to make their conferences coda only. Membership has continued to grow since the founding of the CODA organization and outreach through international events, such as World Federation of the Deaf conference that is held every four years, have brought in many international codas as well.
The Deaf community has a unique pattern of cultural transmission that creates an ironic twist regarding cultural identities. ” Although somewhere between 11 and 30 percent of deaf schoolchildren inherit their deafness, fewer than 10 percent are born to parents who are also Deaf. Consequently, in contrast to the situation in most cultures, the great majority of individuals within the community of Deaf people do not join in at birth” (Padden & Humphries 1988, p. 5). Since the majority of deaf parents have hearing children, those children grow up culturally deaf with complete access to the language and cultural of the deaf community. Deaf children, on the other hand, are born for the most part into hearing families. They do not have complete access to spoken language and learn hearing behaviors and values from their families. Ironically, the hearing children are more culturally deaf than the deaf children. What those deaf children miss by not having deaf parents is what codas have as their birthright. In this light, it becomes clear that both sets of children need to be defined in relationship to their parents: HEARING MOTHER-FATHER DEAF or DEAF MOTHER-FATHER HEARING. The details of ones family and education are in fact part of the way deaf people (and codas) introduce themselves to each other (Lane et. al 1996).
For some members of this community the terms coda and “HEARING MOTHER-FATHER DEAF” are interchangeable. “HEARING MOTHER-FATHER DEAF” is the way codas introduce themselves for the first time to deaf people and to other codas. It is a way to show connection to and membership in the deaf community when speaking to a deaf person and a way to establish a common ground when meeting another hearing person with deaf parents. The established definition of coda includes two criteria; one must be hearing and have at least one deaf parent (Bull 1998). Bull explains that the coda label establishes there is a cultural and linguistic difference between hearing people with deaf parents and hearing people with hearing parents.
Considering the fact there are less than 500 members of CODA and hundreds of thousands of hearing people with deaf parents, it is not surprising that the word coda is not clearly understood or misapplied. People who see themselves as not quite fitting into the deaf/hearing categories choose the coda label as a way to carve out a third niche for themselves regardless of whether or not they are actively involved with the CODA organization. There is some consensus in the coda community that coda should be used to refer only to those people that have found cultural identity through self exploration via CODA conferences, retreats and other coda gatherings. For some the coda label means any hearing person with one or two deaf parents with no group affiliation required. Some deaf people apply the coda label to themselves. This may happen when the person was born hearing or hard of hearing but experienced increased hearing loss with age. This raises the question of whether ones hearing status is the determining factor. There are late-deafened parents who essentially raised their children in hearing culture but who became deaf and/or learned sign language later in life. Some of these people also label themselves as codas. This would then challenge the requirement that growing up in Deaf culture is a prerequisite for being coda.. There is still a great deal of misunderstanding (by hearing and deaf people; perhaps even by codas themselves) about who codas are and what their place is in the deaf and hearing communities. Fundamental to the coda identity is the reconciliation of one’s deaf and hearing parts. For the purposes of this study, coda will represent all hearing people with deaf parents who were raised in the Deaf community regardless of whether or not there is an affiliation with the CODA organization.
4. BILINGUALISM AND STIGMA
In industrialized societies the fact that a deaf person cannot hear (and therefore cannot easily communicate with hearing people) makes it difficult for deaf people to fill the range of social, education, and economic roles expected of citizens in an industrial society (Johnson 1989). Traditional societies, with a lesser emphasis on education (written language) and shared cultural values, have developed into bilingual communities in response to the presence of a high number of deaf people. “Where social access is extensive and where economic access is complete for deaf people, deafness as a political phenomenon is apparently lacking.” (Johnson 1989). Groce (1995) writes about the bilingual hearing community on Martha’s Vineyard (no longer in existence). Branson (1996) discusses a deaf village in Bali, Indonesia in which hearing people know both sign and the spoken language. In Mexico, bilingualism was the norm in a small deaf community in a traditional Yucatec Mayan village (Johnson 1989). In Brazil, an Urubu tribe was bilingual due to a high number of deaf members (Kakumasu 1969). In all these situations, hearing people adapted to the deaf members of their community and all members have full access to the social and economic aspects of their group.
The complex relationship between dominant and minority cultures influences how much and in what ways a minority community is assimilated or marginalized. In the case of deaf people, it is only through the acquisition of sign language by hearing people that the two groups have a chance to interact with each other with some degree of ease. That not being the case, the stigma associated with ASL in the United States has serious consequences for the members of that linguistic minority; deaf people and their children. The question raised in this study and one which will be researched in greater detail in the future is to what degree marginalization of the deaf community has influenced language attitudes towards English, ASL and code-blending among codas.
It is important to understand the bias towards monolingualism in present day linguistic theory in order to consider how bimodal bilingualism presents its own particular challenges for societal acceptance as well as having a value worthy of study. The roots of present day linguistic theory “has its origins in the cultural climate of western Europe and the major Anglophone countries, which attach some special significance to monolingualism and the ethos of one state-one language. At various stages in their history, most of these nations have felt that minority groups were threats to the cohesion of the state and have therefore tried to eradicate both the speakers and their language.” (Romaine 1989:6). Bilingualism has been held up to a monolingual standard and poses a threat to achieving the political ideal of a nation unified by a single language. “A linguistic minority is often considered a threat to the nation especially since nationalism has been equated with monolingualism” (Grosjean 1982:62). This position reveals an inherent belief that languages are static, unaffected by the movement and interaction of the people using them. Language policies made by different nations illustrate the belief that it is possible to keep foreign elements from creeping into the national language. This rigid perspective does not take into account the fact that even dominant languages (such as English, French, Spanish etc.) are products of external linguistic influences and in a state of constant evolution. In the United State, although linguistic minorities are tolerated to some degree, the expectation is that members of those groups “should integrate themselves into the English-speaking society as quickly as possible”. (Grosjean 1982:62). In numerous cases throughout history, misguided monolingual minorities have often determined the language use of the majority populations, creating a situation in which people have no choice but to be bilingual.7
For bimodal bilinguals there are added layers of stigma. The higher status of English in relation to ASL and the fact that ASL uses the English orthographic system for writing has perpetuated the belief that spoken language is superior to signed language. “The expected assimilation is not merely toward a particular language, but a spoken language” (Preston 1994:117). The low status of ASL affects the codas (sometimes referred to kodas kids of deaf adults) as they enter preschool or elementary school. A judgment of a deaf parent’s ability to raise hearing children may lead to placing that child in speech therapy simply because his parents are deaf (Preston 1994). There is often an assumption the children will have delay in the acquisition of spoken language because there is inadequate speech input in the home. According to several authors who have reviewed this literature, there is little evidence, other than a few studies of isolated cases, to support this notion (Singleton and Tittle 2000). Several codas recall being labeled as ‘slow learners’ or as having language difficulties. Anecdotal evidence suggests school administrators and educators often fail to recognize the bicultural and bilingual differences in these children. The topic of bicultural, bilingual children in the educational system as it relates to hearing children from deaf families needs to be researched further to determine whether these children are being assessed and/or tested based on a spoken language bias and in what ways these tests might lead to mislabeling children whose first language is a visual-gestural one,
How stigma relates to feelings about when, how and who should use coda-talk is not yet clear. There is some evidence of strong, negative views of coda-talk by codas themselves. Preston (1996) found many of his informants were highly critical of coda-talk, considering it “immature” or “a mockery of sign language “(1994:223). Further inquiries brought out a more protective feeling around coda-talk. Preston concludes, “While conceding that coda-talk captured a certain sense of the mixture of signing and speaking, most informants felt that coda-talk was intensely private and personal; public usage was tantamount to a betrayal of a family and cultural trust.” (Preston 1994:223) In videotaped interviews (Bishop and Hicks 2003), several codas echoed these sentiments and added they would be very offended if a hearing person were to use deaf voice or copy a coda’s way of speaking (code-blending).
Like many bilinguals, codas can switch back and forth between sign language and English. It is not unusual for bilingual people to code switch when talking to other bilinguals with the same language knowledge. It might be more accurate to say that it would be very unusual if bilinguals didn’t code switch when talking to other bilinguals. Extensive research has been conducted trying to pinpoint when and how bilinguals switch from one spoken language to another. Considering the fact that the majority of the world is bilingual (Grosjean 1982), code switching exemplifies the norm rather than the exception. It also speaks to how a person uses language to reflect dual cultural identities; especially when one of the cultures is marginalized. “Increasing evidence indicates that this mixed mode of speaking serves important functions in the communities where it is used and that it is not random. Nevertheless, in practically all the communities where switching and mixing of languages occurs it is stigmatized.” (Romaine 1989:5)
The Deaf community is not alone in its experience of language and cultural oppression. The Puerto Rican community in New York City provides one example of how stigma leads to using code switching as a cultural identifier and a way to strengthen community bonds. Zentella (1997), a bilingual ethnographer, worked in a barrio8 for ten years collecting data on Spanish/English bilingualism. Puerto Rican children growing up in New York City switch back and forth between English and Spanish in a way that identifies them as a “Nuyorican”. The term Nuyorican, although stigmatized for many, is itself evidence of the recognition that their identity is similar to but different from that of island Puerto Ricans and other New Yorkers (Zentella 1997).
Linguistic research has traditionally focused on the structural, linguistic outcomes of language contact situations such as lexical borrowing, loan translations and code switching. Lexical borrowing occurs when a word is taken from one language and used in another. It typically involves some phonological change of the original word that may be altered once it moves into general usage. An example is the English pronunciation of French words that are commonly used in this country such as au gratin, carte blanche and tour de force. Each of these borrowed words no longer sounds like the original French but instead carries a distinct American accent. Loan translations involve rearranging words in one language along a pattern provided by another. “Skyscraper” has been adopted into many different languages, i.e. rascacielos in Spanish (scrape + sky), created by means of a loan translation (Romaine 1989:57). Not only is the new word a literal translation of the English, the order has been reversed to fit comfortably into the adoptive language. Code switching is defined as, “the juxtaposition within the same speech exchange of passages of speech belonging to two different grammatical systems of subsystems” (Romaine 1989:121). Switching can happen at different places in speech, either within the boundaries of a clause or sentence, i.e. Yo quiero water or at clause boundaries, i.e. Yo quiero agua because I’m thirsty. Zentella’s ethnographic work with these children shows that the intermixing of two languages is a creative style of bilingual communication that accomplishes important cultural and conversational work (1997). Code switching is fundamentally a conversational activity via which speakers negotiate meaning with each other. A code switch “says it better” by capturing the meaning or expressing a point more effectively. Switching also calls attention to the fact that the members are integrating the heritages of their two worlds and that this is practiced among those that belong to that community (Zentella 1997).
The parallels between Spanish and ASL bilinguals are noteworthy. Both ASL and Spanish are considered to be minority languages (in spite of a large number of users) and the communities who use these languages have been marginalized in one way or another. Like many linguistic minorities in the United States, “the Deaf community is characterized by a language and a culture of its own; they have suffered much discrimination and prejudice in the domains of education and employment; they have adopted many of the majority’s negative attitudes toward their language and culture; and many of them are “ to some extent at least “ bilingual.” (Grosjean 1982: p. 88) Whereas English is the language of an independent and wealthy United States, Spanish is the language of a dependent and impoverished Puerto Rico, and of its second-class citizens (Zentella 1997). Both languages must often defer to the higher status of English and the monolingual language policies of the United States. In analyzing code switching, Zentella (1997) observes, “the smooth bilingual transitions (by the children) exploited the opposition between the status embodied in the language of the dominant group and the solidarity embodied in the language of their (the children’s) less powerful community, blurring the boundaries between them.”
It is interesting that the participants in Zentella’s study feel their code switching is “Not really hablando bien” (speaking well). It is possible that this kind of feeling exists among codas as well. Although what the children are doing with Spanish and English is a highly structured code switching, from a prescriptive grammarian’s point of view, their speech might be judged as “mongrelization” (Zentella 1997). Yet, Zentella rejects the notion that Spanish-English code switching is a haphazard jumble of two languages. “What bilinguals demonstrate is a shared knowledge of rules about appropriate boundary sites for Spanish-English linkages that distinguishes their code switching from the transfer-laden speech of second-language learners” (Zentella 1997: p. 134) Bilinguals, on the other hand, are “adept bilingual jugglers” (p.116). It is the outsider’s negative view that often becomes internalized by these very skilled bilinguals. This stigmatization promotes a linguistic insecurity and reflects the cultural middle ground of not being fully American or fully Puerto Rican. This is very similar to the coda sense of not being either hearing or deaf and may be a way to frame code-blending as a cultural identifier.
7. LANGUAGE CONTACT PHENOMENA
Code-blending is the result of a language contact situation. ASL, as well as the majority of the world’s sign languages, has a concurrent relationship with a spoken language. There are many phenomena that result from the contact between signed and spoken languages9. An extensive study on language contact in the Deaf community (see Lucas and Valli 1992) identifies certain features of contact signing; the use of mouthing, whispering English words, use of ASL-like signs such as BECAUSE, the appearance of prepositions (i.e. ON) in sentences with English word order and morphological changes in both ASL and English. Their work highlights the difficulties of determining a base language to a stretch of bilingual discourse when the features of the two languages occur sequentially. “Where the phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical, and pragmatic features of two different languages are most often produced simultaneously, assigning stretches of discourse to ASL or to English seems like a fruitless exercise and also misses the point. The point is a third system which combines elements of both languages and may also have some idiosyncratic features.” (Lucas and Valli 1992:108)
Codas are not the only group of bimodal bilinguals. Deaf people are also ASL/English bilinguals but do not acquire English as children in the same way hearing children do. Conversely, hearing children in deaf families have access to both languages and have the capability to learn both languages natively. Although deaf people use English and use it in creative ways (puns, word play), the preference is usually to sign with other deaf people rather than to speak English. For this reason, only hearing people who are native users of both ASL and English are the basis for this research. Other bilinguals not included here are native English users who learn ASL as a second language. They may acquire language fluency but lack the internalized cultural values and native skills of hearing people from deaf families.
8. THE BIRTH OF CODA TALK
YOU THINK ME FURNITURE? IMA NOT! IMA B-I-G D-E-A-L!10 Just when did codas start to use coda-talk and where does it originate? Studies of bimodal bilinguals began to take place sporadically in the early 1970s, gathered strength in the 1980s and are presently underway in many European and Scandinavian countries as well as the United States. Pertinent to this study are the results of a study by Schiff-Myers (1976, 1982) who found that deaf mothers preferred to use spoken language over signed language with their babies regardless of the intelligibility of the spoken language. Other studies indicate that deaf mothers speak and sign to their babes but the function of each language is different (Mills and Coertz 1989, Moores and Moores 1982). The communication of predominantly emotional or affective content was associated with the spoken language but this function was rarely applied to the usage of sign language. Bogaerde (2003) did a nine year study of deaf mothers with their hearing and deaf children in the Netherlands and has found the mothers often use their voices with their hearing children, even when their pronunciation was identified as strongly deaf and therefore nonnative. Studies done on mixed input (see Bogaerde 2003 for a review) indicate that children in these families are code mixing as a response to the mixing of languages by their caregivers. The definition of mixed used in her study included any utterance in which phonation together with signs was used. These studies provide enough evidence to begin researching the fascinating question of whether or not the characteristics of mixed language input by deaf mothers is similar to the adult code blending in codas
Coda talk officially began with one coda. Preston (1994:) writes of the experience one coda had when her deaf father was hospitalized in another state. It was in the retelling of the story to other codas that, “the carefully crafted balance of shifting between two worlds crumbled under the strain of her father’s illness and the different patterns of response from the Deaf and Hearing worlds:
What must tell you, me find bad news. Father very sick, hospital, heart. Deaf part of me thinks deaf way. But me live in Hearing world, have hearing roommates, have hearing friends. All act like hearing people. At my house, hearing house. Me sit by phone. Alone. What happens when me tell hearing roommates, they walk out of room. Me find out hearing people think, something happen, your private business. Not ask questions. Me call hearing friends, please come over, need see you. One hearing friend say, busy, can’t but give phone support. Other hearing friend say, I have this block of time. Hearing time. This little block of time. Deaf way very different. Deaf come. In your face, ask, ask, ask. Want to know everything, A to Z. Important touch. We sit down. Discuss, group. Face to face”
This story, signed and spoken in the original and later transcribed to the written form, shows the natural code blending of a bimodal bilingual. This style is quite similar to the written emails analyzed for this study ten years later.
9. DEAF VOICE
Although this study focuses on written emails, there is one major component of coda talk that needs to be identified and addressed. Coda-talk sometimes includes using deaf voice, that is, the re-creation of the sounds of a person’s deaf family members. A cursory analysis of the phonology of deaf voice characteristics includes a pervasive nasalization, a distortion of prosody towards the extremes of highs and lows, strong assimilation processes that lead to a loss of syllables and non-linguistic vocal gestures. This re-creation extends not only to phonation patterns but to signing styles as well. In much the same way hearing children from hearing families incorporate parental speech patterns or accents, codas can and do imitate the voices of their deaf parents or other deaf people in their lives. As discussed in the previous section, many deaf mothers speak to their deaf and hearing children (Meadow-Orlans 1997; Maestas y Moores 1980; Schiff 1976; Mills and Coerts 1989; Moores and Moores 1982; Bogaerde 2000; Mather and Rodriquez 2001, Petitto et al. 2001). Considering the strong bond between mother and child, it is not surprising that these sounds are powerful connections to memories of home:
“Deaf voice, I use it with my own family (including codas I feel safe with), I use it when I speak/sign with my mother. My vocal intonations are the same as hers to me … from other people’s feedback to me… they say I sound like her when I speak to her… I myself have not listened to it haha…. dad signs without voice … as I do to him… It is a comfort zone for me …it is breath… the flow of sign and the feel of it in my body … there is no separation for me between the expression of my words and what that may sound like to hearing people it is not an issue upon which I am judged by the deaf …therefore it is sacred to my family, not for judgment.”11
Anecdotal evidence suggests many codas are shocked the first time they hear other codas speaking this way (coda-talk and or deaf voice) but recognize and understand it immediately. One coda describes her feelings the first time she heard codas using deaf voice and how she came to reconcile her childhood feelings of embarrassment with a celebration of her heritage:
For me using my “Deaf voice” is appropriate around codas, I first heard people doing it at a CODA conference, and I didn’t understand it at first, and even found it slightly offensive, until it was explained to me. When we were growing up, when our parents happened to use their voice in the company of Hearing people it was kind of embarrassing, and something that needed to be explained (splain). Many times speech teachers have been less than honest with our parents and led them to believe they would continually improve speech. It’s hard for a child to tell their parents, you are not understood, don’t use your voice. Using your “Deaf voice” to me is a way of embracing what we once cringed at.”12
Other codas reflect on what deaf voice means to them:
“Deaf voice is home, mother, (baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet). Deaf voice IS the voice of my heart.”13
“For me, it is a lot more expressive of my deaf heart, it speaks to my deaf heart directly.”14
“Deaf voice for me, IS my true voice. I feel I’m more understood (NOT by hearing) when I talk in my native tongue, which is Deaf voice. For me, it’s used anytime I speak to my CODA daughter or other relatives or very close friends (hearing………very few of course). Using Deaf voice to me, means being able to be myself.”15
“Hmm about Deaf voice… I can tell you what it means to me… it means home. It’s almost the same feeling I get when I’m outside of New York City and I hear a New York accent. It encompasses my youth… the mmm of a hug when I was sick or sad. When I cry I make that mmmm in the deep of my throat, it soothes me.”16
10. DATA COLLECTION
Emails written to a private coda listserve, MOTHER-FATHER DEAF ONE LIST17 were used as the primary source of written data. The members of this listserve are all codas and this forum is used as a community chat and bulletin board. Topics or threads are introduced to the list and people reply and discuss those topics for varying amounts of time. The topics themselves were random (health, news, family, events, plans for conferences etc.).Members receive emails automatically from this listserve into their private email. Usually the subject line of the email indicates the topic of that particular correspondence and people choose to reply to that thread or not according to their own interests. All topics are coda-related in some manner. A coda colleague, who is also a member, contacted the membership and asked for any previously written emails that had evidence of coda talk. Because all emails are stored in an electronic archive, people were able to access their own emails and forward them for analysis. There were no requirements other than that there be some coda talk in the emails. The term coda talk was not defined in this request leaving each participant to interpret according to his or her own perspective. These emails were forwarded directly to the researchers with written permission to use them for the purpose of doing this study. Permission was also given by the contributors to use their names when needed and in the acknowledgment section of the final paper. Other than names, there was no other demographic information required or requested. Most of the contributors were from various regions of the United States, of both genders (mostly female), all Caucasian (to the best of my knowledge) and older than 18. Several people sent emails for analysis form Australia. In total, nearly one hundred emails were forwarded for analysis by twenty codas. The emails were sent long after they were written which removed the Observer’s Paradox18 issue. (Labov 1972:181). Of these roughly 100 emails (averaging from 3 to 5 lines each), there were a total of 275 lines analyzed. All the lines from each email were used as opposed to selecting which lines to keep or delete. Analysis consisted of recording each instance of deviation from Standard English writing (not including typographical mistakes or writing styles characteristic of email in general such as LOL or laughing out loud). Examples of a few of these deviations are overgeneralization of (I looks), dropped copula (She mad!), and describing ASL signs using English words (Me big eyes). The number of times these features occurred in the data was noted. Those structures that appeared only once were eliminated from this study. In order to provide a hearing control, research on the structures of written English via Internet Relay Chat (a general forum for people around the world to talk about different topics completely unrelated to coda) is also presented. Research on TDD (telecommunication device for deaf people) writing provides a comparison to deaf people’s writing.
The features listed below in Table 11.1 were counted each time they occurred in the 275 lines of email-analyzed sentences. Categories (a) through (f) are consistent with ASL structures.19 More information on each category is provided with examples:
|a.||dropped subjects||69 times|
|d.||dropped auxiliaries and modals||15|
This last group is largely unrelated to grammatical structure but reflects the creative element of coda-talk and has the highest degree of frequency. The categories (h-k) represent those features that appear to be unique to codas:
|h.||unique glossing||146 novel phrases|
|i.||novel lexicon||23 novel ASL glosses|
|j.||irregular inflections||79 verbs (total verbs not counted)|
|k.||irregular infinitives||17 verbs were missing “to”|
11.3 Irregular inflections
This category includes all the verbs that have endings incompatible with English grammatical requirements for subject-verb agreement:
|1.||“so I am think”|
|2.||“the bloody hotmail keeps to send”|
|3.||“I have a horse too and now I am try not to fall off”|
|4.||“Now you who were here yesterday hear Coda Talk first time”|
|5.||“when he sing he have big vein and stick out on foreheads.”|
11.4 Dropped subjects
This is the next most common structural feature. Although subjects are sometimes used and other times omitted, dropped subjects appear frequently in the writing. Dropped subjects are a common part of ASL when the subject is understood through context (not added here):
|1.||“I would be smile if went with you to see and hear”|
|2.||“Now is 6am, I up 5am, go work soon”|
|3.||“hope lots of room on plane”|
|4.||“detail no need”|
|5.||“sit close must sign”|
11.5 Dropped copula
Sentences are missing the verb to be, but the meaning still remains clear:
|2.||“Where all others?”|
|3.||“You will not alone”|
|4.||“hair little strange”|
|5.||“What I cooking?”|
11.6 Dropped non-modal auxiliaries and modal verbs
Non-modal auxiliary do is sometimes missing in coda-talk as well as the modal verb will. The missing words are supplied within parenthesis for clarification:
|1.||“he (did) not even wince”|
|2.||“I (did) not know how”|
|3.||“People (will) dress up fancy”|
|4.||“We (will) all think of you”|
|5.||“They (did) not know”|
11.7 Dropped prepositions/infinitives
Dropping prepositions/infinitives in coda-talk (supplied in parenthesis):
|1.||“go (to) therapy”|
|2.||“hmmm, how (to) apply (for) that job?”|
|3.||“I am up (at) 5am”|
|4.||“When he does come (to) Chicago”|
|5.||“think (about) how”|
11.8 Dropped determiners
The use of definite (the) and indefinite (a/an) articles as well as possessive determiners (my/your/our) are often missing from coda-talk:
|1.||“is called country singer”|
|2.||“I prefer win lottery”|
|3.||“who want win lottery?”|
|4.||“have safe trip on plane”|
11.9 Irregular infinitives
English requires the verb to be in the infinitive in certain linguistic environments, i.e. “I like to cook“. In coda-talk, there is a slight tendency to drop “to”:
|1.||“right way support me”|
|3.||“they want know”|
|4.||“I not know how condense”|
|5.||“want see you sing”|
11.10 Dropped objects
This category is highly infrequent. This may be due to a loss of clarity if the objects are not overtly stated. In some cases, though, the meaning of the entire utterance is clear without a state object. To illustrate, more context is added in parenthesis:
|1.||“Today I put last two (relatives) on plane, sent (them) to Melbourne”|
|2.||“I just can’t believe (it)”|
|3.||“I finally find (it)”|
|4.||“see family and give (them) big surprise”|
|5.||“for that whole week, I called (it)”|
11.11 Unique glossing and novel lexicon
Verb manipulation (irregular infinitives and inflections) seems to be a unique structural coda-talk phenomenon that effectively removes resemblance to English grammatical sentences. The other categories that go straight to the heart of coda-talk and comprise the bulk of what makes coda-talk so enjoyable for both codas and hearing people who know sign language are called “unique glossing” and “novel lexicon”. Because ASL uses space, facial expression and body language, the translation of ASL into English is basically “THINK SELF” or up to each individual. While certain lexical choices may be based on individual preferences (i.e. glossing the English expression “not my taste” into a coda-ism “not my flavor”), other expressions seem to take hold and pass into popular use by the coda community. One example is using the gloss BIG. It is uncertain if this word is used to reflect the semantic intensity of the ASL sign, to function as a quantifier or has some other origin:
|Table 11.11a ”BIG” category|
|a.||I big upset|
|b.||I am big excite|
|c.||I am big lurking|
|d.||I started big cry|
|e.||He big sick|
|Table 11.11b Visual descriptions of the ASL sign|
|a.||eyes going downhill||(eyesight is getting worse)|
|b.||hands in dishwater||(stumped, at a loss)|
|c.||fork in throat||(stuck)|
|d.||“F” to chin||(expert, really good at)|
|e.||“interpreting sausage”||(interpreting degree)|
The sign for ORANGE is made with an opening and closing of the hand several times by the mouth. The meaning changes depending on where it is signed on the body. Below is a loose translation of what the ASL signs mean in English:
|Table 11.11c Â – Â Orange category|
|ORANGE MOUTH||located at the mouth||‘keep it to yourself’|
|ORANGE-EYES||located in front of the eyes||“amazing!”|
|ORANGE-THROAT||located at the throat||“Shouldn’t have said that”|
|ORANGE-OFF-CHEST||located by the chest||to get something off your chest|
|ORANGE-SNOT-THROW||located by the nose||to blatantly insult or disregard|
An excerpt taken from the original, one-woman coda show “Phoenix, THE©”, written and performed by Sherry Hicks (1991, 1997) shows the partial application of the ‘Orange Category’:
“If I tell you, you must ORANGE-MOUTH! Don’t ORANGE-SNOT-THROW on me or I will ORANGE-EYES and you will ORANGE THROAT and I will ORANGES-OFF-CHEST on you!”
Another category celebrates parent’s voices and how they pronounce words with their own unique accent (deaf voice). Codas sometimes expand on this by adding their parent’s voice patterns to English vocabulary and creating new ways of saying word.
|Table 11.11d||Deaf voice||English translation|
|c.||Allaboo!||I love you!|
|g.||Hippo birdies||Happy Birthday!|
There is also a tendency to over generalize the use of the English ‘s’. It no longer functions to mark plurals or to indicate the third person singular conjugation for verbs; it is unique coda morphology.
|Table 11.11e Over generalizing ‘s’|
|a.||I am share with coda peoples|
|b.||But I am glads you go to see him|
|c.||Better stay under cover with nightgowns|
|d.||BUTâ€¦have a little problems|
|e.||We all owe to you big thakoo for hard works on|
|f.||Admit, they all seem similars to us|
|g.||I am glads to join with you|
|h.||I sit with 3000 other peoples|
Another coda feature is to follow patterns for word reversals that are common among deaf people:20
|Table 11.11f Word reversals|
It has already been established that determiners are often omitted in coda-talk yet the word “the” is used in an entirely different way. It no longer has a grammatical function but a semantic one. It is used to add emphasis to an adjective or a proper name.
|Table 11.11g ”The” category|
|1.||she is cute the!21|
This last section is not data collected from the emails but a collection of expressions donated by codas themselves through personal communications, conversations, or by observation. The specifics of how the coda-isms are said (i.e. with deaf voice, with voice and sign etc.) was provided by a coda consultant. Anecdotal evidence suggests the evolution and further development of this way of speaking comes from coda gatherings, formal or informal, over time. As more and more people join the coda community the momentum of that coming together gives momentum to the expansion of coda-talk. After so many years, certain expressions can be found in common usage by many codas, regardless of whether or not those people grew up fluent in ASL or if they are active members in CODA. In order to understand how these expressions are used, a key has been provided to indicate the mode (signed or spoken) as well as the phonology (deaf voice or hearing voice). While these expressions may vary from person to person, the list gives an overall idea of how the language is used:
|+||spoken with sign|
|++||spoken with sign and deaf voice|
|-||can be spoken without sign|
|*||spoken in deaf voice without sign|
|italics||indicate an approximate English translation|
|bold||only that word is said with deaf voice or deaf sound|
|(+ or -)||You give me big (++wee)||You give me a lot of trouble|
|(-)||You think easy?||This is really hard!|
|(+ or -)||Give me big distract||That distracted me tremendously.|
|(+)||Matter!||It doesn’t matter to me at all|
|(+)||Hands in dishwater||Stumped, confounded, at a loss.|
|(-)||Deer in headlights||Terrified, shocked, stunned|
|(* or ++)||Millie Brother is the flounder||founder|
|(* of ++)||Coda is my flammy||family (used only in lighthearted context)|
|(++)||I have-a right! 504!||I have rights too!|
|(+)||You think me furniture?||You think I’m nothing?|
|(-)||Don’t frog it||Don’t jump to act too fast|
|(+ or -)||Don’t waste my gas||Don’t waste my time.|
|(+ or -)||Save my gas||It’s not worth the bother.|
|(+ or -)||Fork in throat||Stuck, no way out.|
|(++)||Allaboo||I love you!|
|(+ or -)||You think me farmer?||You think I’m a mess ? I have no taste?|
|(+ or -)||That is farmer!||That is very tacky!|
|(+ or -)||That is cute the!||That is so cute!|
|(+ or -)||Funny zero!||That is not funny.|
|(+ or -)||Arrow in head, BOING!||She finally got the point.|
|(++)||Ima thrilling||I’m thrilled!|
|(++)||Ima orange-eyes||I’m amazed! Wow!|
|(++)||Ima blind||Reference to story told by D. Dyal22|
|(++)||Dog balls gone||Reference to story told by B. Kraft|
|(++)||Fish!||Stop! All done.|
|(+)||You have interpreting sausage?||Are you a certified interpreter?|
|(+ or -)||You big worth!||You are so important!|
|(-)||Don’t frog it!||Don’t jump to act too fast|
|Don’t get ahead of me|
13. ANALYSIS OF TDD23 CONVERSATIONS IS CODA TALK SIMILAR?
In 1965, a deaf scientist in southern California named Robert Weitbrecht developed an acoustic coupler, a way of opening telephonic communication to deaf people (Graham 1988 in Mather 1991). By the mid 1970′s the affordable price and increased availability of TDDs made it possible for most Deaf families to have access to this way of communication. Most codas have used these devices (and still do) to communicate with their families. Yet, how many of the linguistic features from this way of typing have found their way into coda-talk email?
The two areas (Internet Relay Chat and TDD communications) used as a control in the analysis of coda-talk have one significant difference; both are done in real time while email responses have a lag time. The written conventions of both IRC and TDD writing have aspects that spring from this fact. Much of what defines this kind of communication therefore will not show up in email. This requires that some analysis be disregarded for the purpose of this study. For future research, an analysis of “Instant Messaging” or “IMs” between codas would be insightful.
Mather (1991) uses sociolinguistic methods to analyze the linguistic characteristics of telecommunications conversations to identify the basic, underlying dimensions of TDD conversations. Her study focuses on how typists work to understand messages by combining affect and information through specific discourse markers (not relevant to this study). The purpose of including a TDD analysis is to determine whether any codas transfer that writing style to their email writing. One of the basic rules of TDD conversations is to abbreviate whenever doing so will not obscure the message. This is common to many kinds of writing situations (memos, email, refrigerator notes, grocery lists etc.). Common shorthand features in TDD conversations are24:
|OIC||Oh I see|
|OXOXOX||Hugs and kisses|
Just as coda-talk is not Standard English, TDD conversations are also not written in Standard English (a typist is not expected to type every letter for each word or mark a period to end a sentence or an apostrophe to indicate a possessive or a contraction). “While these typists, like all native users of a language, make errors, much of what appears strange, inappropriate, or incorrect, is none of the above. These typists use a specific dialect of English, a dialect that is strongly influenced both by the special requirements of the mode itself and by ASL.” (Mather 1991) It is the influence of ASL that creates a tentative parallel to coda-talk. However, these ASL insertions are very few and far between. The following section looks at specific characteristics of two TDD communications. Bold indicates a possible insertion of an ASL-ism. A TDD conversation reads as follows:25
THIS IS JACK SMITH GA
HI YA JACK CONGRATS ON PASSING UR BAR I KNEW
U COULD DO IT YIPPEEEE
NOW U ARE A FUL FLEGLED LAWYER THIS IS MONA GA
KNEW THAT YOU CALLED AT THE MOMENT OF COURSXSE IM
STILLING A HOT STREAK I M THINKING I GONNA BUY SOME
LOTTERY TICKETS WHAT DA YOU THINK GA
WHY NOT QQQ U MIGHT EVEN HIT THE JAKPOT EY ITS
REALLY SO GREAT THAT WHEN I HEAD THE NEWS I RAN OVER
TO ELY WITHOUT THINKING AND OOOPPPSSS SAW UR NICE
SIGN DX SAYING PLEASE Don’t DISTURB SO I TURNED
RIGHT AROUND AND CAME BACK TO COLLEEHALL TO CALL YA
INSTEAD HAHAHA BOY EVERTHING IS REALLY WORKING
OUT WELL FOR ALL OF U EVER SINCE U CAME DOWN HERE
HOW S LISA AND BARRY Q GA (Mather 1991:40)
Conversation 2: In response to caller, “YES I AM FINE THANK U Q GA”
NADINE DOING FINE I M REALLY CALLING ABOUT
SUNDAY THE PAER I GOT HAD WRONG
PHONE NBR I HAD TRIED TO CALLL YOU
BEFORE BUT NEVER GOT THRU TIL
I ASK NATHIE SHE FINALLY GOT ME YOUR
RIGHT NBR I HOPE I AM NOT LATE Q GA
ALICE NOPE I Don’t THINK SO SMILE YEAH I DID
NOT NOTICE TIL SOMEONE PUT A BIG RED
CIRCLE ON MY PHONE NUMBER GULP GULP
SMILE GLAD U SOLVED THAT PROBLEM SMILE
SO U AND UR HUBBY ARE COMING GREAT WHAT
FOOD U WANT TO ORDER Q GA (Mather 1991:300)
There are no ASL grammatical structures in these particular samples. Equally, there were almost no instances of TDD abbreviations in coda emails. While codas are presumed to have TDD writing conventions at their disposal, they do not seem to include them very often in their email writing. One similarity is the use of smile in both that allows the reader to understand the other’s affect. One coda-ism that shows affect but which did not appear in TDD conversations was a variation, smile show teeth. The use of “OXOXOXOX” (hugs and kisses) is used in all three (coda emails, TDD and IRC). Some codas do retain some TDD features in their writing:
“Cant wait to see u let me know what u think re trip timing weekend before or after ur bday we will celebrate when u are here. We have extra room comfty bed and fuss over you. smile”26
What is of interest in how different these deaf writings and coda writings are. The TDD communications show the occasional ASL influence but for the most part the writing contains grammatically correct English. As previously stated, the abbreviations and misspellings are intentional shortcuts. Coda-talk, on the other hand, is structured according to ASL rules. Violating English spelling and pronunciation norms is part of coda-talk (although that is not likely the intention). When speaking ASL, one is bound to violate many English grammatical rules simply because ASL and English have very different grammars. Coda-talk writing does have misspellings that are not present to expedite communication. As explained to me by several codas, intentional misspellings hail back to childhood memories of the challenges codas had trying to read their own parent’s fingerspelling in ASL. That experience has turned into another coda tradition which is to spell words close enough to English so as to be understood but which are not exact English spellings, i.e. “c-o-l-o-n-y” for “c-o-l-o-n-o-s-c-o-p-y”.27 While TDD communication focuses on conveying information and affect, coda-talk is a conscious and purposeful commitment to spoken ASL, a written or spoken re-creation of parental communication characteristics and a creative embellishment of the lexicon.
14. INTERNET RELAY CHAT HOW DOES CODA TALK COMPARE?
How do we know that coda emails are different than any other kind of Internet communication? Evidence in this section is to briefly look at some research on Internet Relay Chat (IRC). It is important to note here that IRC is a form of real-time communication in which large numbers of people convene in a “room” and talk. Email communications are best likened to very fast “snail mail” (traditional correspondence sent through the post office) and are not synchronous textual conversations. The chat systems l looks at are social spaces made available on bulletin boards, servers and on sites across much of the internet in which people converse and interact (Werry et. al 2001). Most Chat communication is currently recreational in character. On IRC, hundreds of thousands of people, speaking a variety of languages, gather to discuss all manner of topics.
According to Werry, there are over 5000 different channels, each one reflecting a different topic of interest. The listserve used by codas is a comparable forum specific to only people that have one or two deaf parents. Although there are coda users from many different countries (Australia, Germany, Holland, Sweden, England, Canada, Ireland, Austria and possibly others I am not aware of), I believe the number of members is approximately 320.28 Some of the emerging linguistic patterns on IRC and comparable forums have become conventionalized and are widely accepted and understood by people using the Internet around the world. However, these linguistic conventions are, for the most part, quite different than the structures found in coda emails. Even though there is evidence indication people try to recreate sounds and facial expressions to represent emotional content and behavioral norms, this linguistic behavior is more similar to a few structures found in deaf TD messages to show affect (Mather 1991). An important note is that both Werry (1996) and Mather (1991) focus on real time communication – which coda emails do not. This is one factor that may potentially have a bearing on some of the structural differences found in this study.29
There is no certainty that the people whose communications were analyzed by Werry were all hearing people from hearing families yet the fact that these IRC rooms involve over 70 countries and hundreds of thousands of people leads one to assume the same majority of hearing people are represented on the Internet as it is in the world. Although the numbers of hearing people born into deaf families is not certain it is estimated that 90% of children born to deaf parents are hearing and the population of profoundly, prelingually deaf people in the United States is roughly 250,000. (Preston 1994) Some of the characteristic discursive properties of IRC in terms of addressivity, abbreviaton, prosody and gesture indicate which features hearing people employ in their Internet writing making it possible to do a comparison with the properties of coda emails. Werry argues the conventions that are emerging are a direct reflection of the physical constraints on the medium combined with a desire to create language that is as “speech-like” as possible. Whether it is a TD, IRC or email format, people are using language to bypass the communication limitations imposed by a lack of physical proximity and the absence of a face-to-face communication. I believe evidence will show that codas are attempting to create language that is as “sign-like” as possible.
Language on IRC tends to be heavily abbreviated, a feature not found in coda emails. Also, though subject pronouns are often deleted or phonologically reduced (as they are in coda emails), it is due to both time constraints and because the IRC system automatically prefaces each line with the speaker’s nickname, as can be see in the examples below so that users may omit subject pronouns especially for first person singular: (Werry et. al p. 54)
<Keels> got to go for a sec
Acronyms common to net culture such as ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) and IMHO (in my humble opinion), are also widely used on IRC but this feature was completely absent in the coda emails I analyzed for this study. On IRC, participants’ nicknames are also abbreviated, especially when they are long or hard to spell. There is a tendency on IRC for words to be stripped down to the fewest possible letters that will enable them to be meaningfully recognized. The vowels of some words will commonly be left out, “please” becomes “pls”. (Werry et. al p. 55) This convention is much more similar to TDD writing than to coda email writing.
Some of the most characteristic and interesting features of the language used on IRC are the result of a complex set of orthographic strategies designed to compensate for the lack of intonation and paralinguistic cues that interactive written discourse imposes on its users. An innovative set of linguistic devices has evolved that function to create the effects of voice, gesture and tone through the creative use of capitalization, spelling and punctuation. Coda-talk writing, on the other hand, rely on people’s shared knowledge of ASL to provide the voice effects and tone. For example, reduplicated letters are used to represent drawn-out or expressive intonation: (Werry et. al p. 57)
- 1. cooolll
- 2. baaaad joke bomberâ€¦hehehe
- 3. awwww, cool
In line with the tendency to produce discursive forms that approximate speech, language use on IRC tends to be highly colloquial. Most interchanges will typically be dense with informal discourse particles such as nope, nup, yup, and hiya. Similar to coda-talk writing, IRC colloquial verbalizations and non-standard spellings appear to be self-consciously selected in preference to “standard” linguistic expressions: (Werry p.57)
- 4. wot wuz dat fo?
- 5. wotz da question
- 6. how ya doon
However, the end result is a representation of spoken English while coda writing more closely resembles ASL.
The way codas reference the acoustic imprints of their childhood and their ASL/English play on words is similar to the imitation of sounds used by people on IRC. Participants tend to play with language, to produce hybrid, heteroglossic forms that incorporate all manner of communicative styles. A salient property of IRC discourse involves what one might call the written equivalent of speaking in tongues. Participants produce a bricolage of discursive fragments drawn from songs, television characters, and a variety of different social speech types30: (Werry p. 58)
- 7. <ari@ whutta dowk
- 8. <ari@ hewwo?
- 9. <bomber@ Lilus: no worries;-)
- 10. <ari@ vewy intewestin
- 11. <bomber@ ari ????
- 12. <ari@ rosanne roseannadanna hea
- 13. <ari@ yup yup?
Throughout the textual dialogues that occur on IRC there is a common thread; an almost manic tendency to produce auditory and visual effects in writing, a straining to make written words simulate speech. This is one feature that appeared in coda emails; the use of “ha” , “hmmm” and “mwa” (sound of a kiss). “IRC users construct graphic simulations of sounds, such as laughter, exclamations, snarls, barks, singing, the sound of racing cars, and various other noises”: (Werry et. alp. 58)
- 14. hahahahahahahahahahaha [laughter]
- 15. aaaaahhhhh [exclamation]
- 16. WOUARFFFFFF [dog barking]
- 17. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM poc poc poc poc pouf [race car]
- 18. mmmwwwhhahahahaha [sheep sounds]
Although coda writings use “xoxox” and “hugs!” it doesn’t approach the complexity that appears on IRC. The IRC community employs a set of codes and conventions whereby words and visual images are used to symbolize gestural qualities of face-to-face communication. “The symbolic enactment of physical actions is a particularly distinctive and fascinating discursive property of its genre. Hugs, kisses, offers of coffee, yawns, shaking hands, and the popping of champagne are all enacted symbolically. The convention for doing this is to precede or enclose the dramatized action in asterisks in a manner that resembles stage directions”: (Werry et. al p.60)
- 27. ***Action: Sofie passes a glass to everyone and waits for the other bots to bring the champagne
- 28. ***Action: Zola fills a flute of champagne for all
- 29. ***Action: frans finds Sofie to be very humane (Werry p.60)
Language produced by users of IRC demands to be read with the simultaneous involvement of the ear and eye (Werry et.al). The most powerful parallel between this kind of communication and coda emails is the desire to recreate one’s own language in the written from. While IRC participants are using references to English and hearing cultural norms, codas are doing the same thing based on ASL and Deaf culture. Codas are using written language to express the visual nature of ASL and the auditory world of their experiences as a hearing child in a deaf family.
“In the case of intense language contact, it is possible for a third system to emerge, which shows properties not found in either one. Through merger or convergence of two systems, a new one can be created.” (Romaine 1989:4).
Codas have many options for communication, speaking only, speaking and signing at the same time, signing only, signing with deaf voice and/or just using deaf voice with no signing. Instead of being a chaotic, unregulated intermingling of two languages, code blending is a language option for those people that intuitively understand how to do it. The way some codas speak is unlike anything an English L2 learner of ASL might spontaneously produce. Codas seem to follow rules for their code blending just as spoken language bilinguals do. Coda talk, albeit creative, does not appear to be a random way of speaking. Data from this study and anecdotal evidence suggest there are incorrect ways of speaking coda talk.31 Additionally, there are many expressions used by ASL/English bilinguals such as “True biz” (meaning: It’s true or really!) that may have originated in the deaf and coda communities and which later spread to hearing non-native ASL users. Lucas and Valli (1992) first commented on this unique language contact phenomena, “While there is as yet no empirical research on this phenomenon, anecdotal evidence indicates that CODA-speak consists of spoken English words produced with ASL syntactic structure, what might be called “spoken ASL Bilinguals code switch because they can (Lucas and Valli 1992). Many codas appear to share an intuitive knowledge of their own rules about how coda-talk is formed. “Although coda-talk alternately follows the grammatical and syntactical rules of both languages, there appears to be a high degree of consistency among users.” (Preston 1994:223). The evidence collected for this study show there are definite patterns in coda-talk structures (dropped subjects, objects, determiners, copulas etc.) that are unlikely to be easily understood by hearing non-native users of ASL. Research is needed to determine how code blending in codas is different (the hypothesis is that coda talk is very different than other bimodal bilingual code-blending) than that of deaf bilinguals and hearing L2 learners of ASL.
It is conceivable that what codas are doing could be erroneously labeled as Simultaneous Communication or SimCom.32 An analysis of SimCom has shown there is a deficit in the amount of ASL structures being signed and crucial information is often dropped (Johnson, Liddell and Erting 1989). The speaker is able to hear her own spoken message and perceive the overall communication as being clear to the addressees. In reality, the speaker may be attending only to the spoken message and not to what is actually being signed.33 Emmorey et. al (2003) reported that asking bimodal bilinguals to use SimCom to describe a Tweety and Sylvester cartoon with other bimodal bilinguals produced speech dysfluencies and semantic mismatches which were not present in the same exercise using code blending. Their conclusion is that “the sociolinguistic functions and the cognitive demands of this type of communication [SimCom] are quite different than the code-blending that occurs naturally during bimodal bilingual interactions.” (p.10)
This study has been an attempt to describe the phenomenon of coda talk and to identify features that are not found in either ASL or English. Further connections were made between the stigma attached to sign language, the oppression of the Deaf community and the emergence of this kind of code blending by hearing adults born into deaf families. Quotes, such as the one that follows, illustrate the negative consequences of this oppression and conflicting cultural values of both deaf and hearing societal norms
“I heard what hearing people said about Deaf people and saw what they did to them and felt what they did to me. I understood that there was something about Deaf World that they found lacking, sad, distasteful even horrific.34
Sometimes misunderstood in public schools or stigmatized for having parents that are not hearing, codas may experience ambivalent feelings about where they belong and what their relationship is to both the deaf and hearing communities. This ambivalence is addressed in the development of a separate identity called coda. Each coda brings his or her own aural imprints, visual memories, and childhood experiences to his or her languages.
This study is just the first step in acknowledging the linguistic legacy deaf parents pass on to their children. Every year on the last Sunday of April, codas around the world celebrate MOTHER-FATHER DEAF DAY. The essence of being coda is the celebration and sharing of this heritage. As one coda recounts:
“Happen one time car is old and radio start very bad with too much fuzz noise and I am very impatient of it. Father ask me why I make bad face and play too much with knobs tell him car is old, radio is old and I cannot stand awfully noise in my ears. He laff on me and say too bad you are hearing, it not bother me at alls. Then he start with deaf whistle (more alike spit) alike he is rockin’ to the tunes. He laff on me and say it sound fine to me, I love Elvisbeatle! He make me so madder. But car still run good so he not plan for new car. I am stuck with lousy radio.
One day I go with him to drug store and he not feeling well so ask I mind to go for him, will wait car. Of course I will do it and then I come out and as I walk toward car I see him do fake listen to music with snappy fingers. I am start burn inside because I do nice for him and he is mock me again about radio. But then I open car door and I hear music beautifully full blast! I am the shock! He smiling at me and say, “I fix for you!” I say, “How fix?? I struggle struggle for month try to fix and fail! What you do??” He just smili with small laffs and tell me, “Secret, Only deaf know.” SOFFABEESH! Until today I still have no idea how he did successfully of fix car radio!!! But I tell you truth. Sometime when I driving and start too much statics on radio I not fix. I leave alone and start big smiling on face with warm inside.”35
It is true that not all codas use or desire to use coda-talk. This linguistic phenomenon has been mostly developed in coda only environments and people are often observers rather than participants. It is likely that not even the community itself is sure what linguistic value (other than as a cultural identifier) coda-talk has. These kinds of ambivalent feelings are common to bilinguals. Zentella emphasizes the importance of understanding the language dichotomy Hi (English)-Lo (Spanish) that characterizes social and linguistic relationships between a governing group and an impoverished minority community. The Deaf community is not so different in this regard. Often hearing children witness the discrimination and economic struggles of their parents and carry those memories into adulthood. In many cases, the children hear disparaging remarks about their families from hearing people and internalize values from outside the family. Although deaf people have been allowed to participate in society, the use of sign language has been subtly discouraged (Lane et. al 996). In the absence of widespread use of ASL, Deaf people remain outsiders in a hearing world, and their lives must be understood with that in mind. The children may carry both the values of their deaf parents and those of hearing society; each group viewing the other as an outsider. If deaf people are outsiders, their children likely carry internalized feelings of marginality with regards to hearing society.36
16. RESEARCH WEAKNESSES
The basic design flaw in this study is the fact that coda emails are a type of correspondence with a built-in time delay in their exchange. Both IRC and TDD communications happen in real time, raising the question of whether real time coda writings would still have the same linguistic features. Also, the data sample was relatively small and no statistics were used in the analysis. The section on deaf voice and coda-isms were collected from observation and interviews of coda consultants. Clearly, more visual data is necessary to identify phonological features of deaf voice as well as under what conditions this aspect of coda talk is used. More information about the relationship between the Deaf community and codas would also help in building a more comprehensive picture of these bimodal bilinguals. As this is a descriptive paper of the coda experience, both deaf and hearing perspectives of codas were only summarily mentioned. It would be interesting to add this piece in future research projects.
It is important to state that the data was taken from codas that are themselves relatively aware of their codahood. Research must also include the bimodal bilingualism of those hearing people who have no collective identity as such. A comparison of language use of different populations of codas (active in CODA vs. not active, working with deaf people vs. working in the hearing world, etc.) could shed more light on the role of code blending (and deaf voice). The question needs to be answered if all bimodal bilinguals code blend and if they do, what function does it serve.
How coda talk is or isn’t similar to a pidgin was only briefly touched on in this paper and needs to be addressed. Coda talk does share some characteristics with pidgins because it can be exclusively spoken (as opposed to mixing signing and speaking) and it exhibits morphological reduction and omission.37 However, it has many un-pidgin “like characteristics, such as the relatively equal balance of spoken English and spoken ASL as well as the fact that there are very specific social circumstances in which coda-talk is used. The social situation in which coda talk is used does not resemble the historical patterns that have given rise to English-based pidgins. A more extensive study of coda talk is required to better understand how it is different than pidgins.
17. FUTURE RESEARCH
There are many aspects of life for hearing people from deaf families that need to be researched. Analyzing the mixed language input of deaf mothers and comparing that to the mixed language output of adult codas could shed some light on the linguistic patterns of coda talk. What relationship does this mixed language input have with the bilingual features of the adult code blending? Is coda-talk a retypologizing of the language? Personal observation and casual conversations with codas have indicated that school age kodas do not code blend but codeswitch. This raises the question of when code blending actually begins and how the function of code blending and code switching is different. The role of interpreting (see Preston 1994 ) also needs to be examined for its possible contribution to code blending. If the children are mediating between deaf and hearing family members, they may feel obligated to voice and sign simultaneously. Another larger issue is to look at how signing and speaking at the same time is different for codas, deaf people and for fluent non-native ASL/English bilinguals. An examination of bimodal bilingualism from other countries could also answer if this is a universal phenomenon. If codas from the United States are using many ASL structures in their code blending, it would suggest that codas from other countries could be doing the same.
The bimodal bilingualism of hearing people from deaf families allows for the simultaneous production of a signed and spoken utterance. The choice of if, when and how, a bilingual blends two languages may offer researchers insights into the bilingual mind that studies of spoken language bilinguals cannot match. These studies may also be the beginning in understanding how code blending functions as a cultural identifier further supporting previous research that has shown the Hi/Lo status of a person’s two languages often leads to code switching. In a society that has historically tried to suppress sign language in favor of spoken language for deaf children, the status of sign language has been very low. This Hi/Lo dichotomy is often internalized by the hearing children of deaf parents. As adults, these hearing people, with deaf cultural views of the world, have the opportunity to reconcile two opposing cultures and languages. Coda talk is the synthesis of this reconciliation.
1 Coda is the acronym for Children of Deaf Adults and refers to the hearing person with deaf parents. The fully capitalized acronym ‘CODA’ stands for the international organization that meets annually to celebrate a ‘third identity’, which is made up of both deaf and hearing ‘parts’.
The term ‘CODA’ was chosen for its significance as a musical term. The musical term is defined as a piece of music that appears at the end of a composition that may have elements from the main composition but which also has its own unique elements.
2 Not all hearing children from deaf families sign fluently. There are many factors that determine the fluency of the child: i.e. whether the parents choose to speak with their children, the birth order of the children, the presence of other siblings (deaf or hearing), the emphasis on oralism in deaf education, and the higher status of English as compared to ASL.
3 Capital ‘D’ represents the political, linguistic, and cultural aspect of being deaf while the lowercase ‘d’ only refers to the audiological state of not being able to hear.
4 Millie Brother is the founder (“flounder” in coda-talk) of CODA. The CODA International organization began in 1983. The first CODA conference was in 1986. Conferences are held annually and attended by codas from around the world.
5 Gallaudet University is the only liberal arts university for deaf people in the world.
6 Tom Bull recounted how Paul Preston’s 150 interviews with codas lasted from 2-8 hours. These interviews were later turned into his book, Mother Father Deaf. (personal communication May 4, 2003).
7 For further discussion on societal bilingualism see Romaine 1989.
8 A barrio is the Spanish word for neighborhood
9 For further discussion of how spoken language terminology is not adequate to describe sign and spoken language contact see Lucas and Valli. 1992. San Diego: Academic Press.
10 B. Kraft and S.Hicks offered this expression to illustrate how codas play with language. The meaning is a play on the ASL words, “FURNITURE” and “NOTHING” which are both signed in the same way literally translating into English as; “You think I’m nothing? Well, I am not! I am a big deal!”
11 C. Batson – personal communication via email from Australia (March 15, 2003)
12 J. Johnston – response to question about ‘deaf voice’ (February 20, 2003)
13 B. Kraft via email communication (February 20, 2003)
14 A. Smith via email (February 19, 2003)
15 C. Blackman via email (February 20, 2003)
16 D. Ammon personal communication via email February 2003.
17 This is a place for email postings for hearing people who have at least one deaf parent. As a hearing person I depended solely on those contributions forwarded to me directly so that I never accessed the site myself.
18 ‘Observer’s paradox’ is what happens when the exact phenomena that someone wants to study is altered by the presence of that observer.
19 It is common in ASL to drop a subject that is made clear by grounded mental space (for further discussion see Liddell 2003). For more details on the other ASL features listed see Valli and Lucas 2002,Linguistics of American Sign Language.
20 Sherry Hicks discusses aspects of coda identity including coda-talk in her MFA Thesis entitled,Â Deaf WORLD meetsÂ CODA Nation, 2001.
21 This category ‘the’ was coined by S. Jacobs, T. Bull, B. Mendelsohn, S. Hicks, S. Russell and D. Prickett in March of 1991. It happened that an afternoon coda gathering resulted in hours of language play and the creation of many coda-isms (such as ORANGE category, ‘you think me furniture’ etc.)
22 Coda stories get passed down from year to year at the CODA conferences. They become part of ‘coda folklore’ and are highly valued in the coda community (very similar to the high value placed on story telling in the Deaf community). References to stories were taken from Sherry Hicks’ MFA Thesis 2001.
23 TD is the acronym for “telecommunication device” which is used for communications between deaf people (and with hearing people as well). The typed message is sent via telephone lines.
24 Abbreviations used for clarifying turn taking and flow of conversation were omitted since they are not applicable to the analysis of coda-talk found in emails.
25 Mather explains the line breaks from the original TD communication have not carried over however the message is reproduced as exactly as possible.
26 Note: TD communication is always capitalized.
27 Coda email excerpt from S. Hicks, March 2003
28 This example was taken from J. Johnston’s “Colony Story”, 2003
29 Information supplied by Tom Bull via personal communication on May 4, 2003
30 A future study of coda-talk needs to include ‘real-time’ instant messaging between codas to see which linguistic conventions prevail.
31 I believe some of these references appearing in 7-13 include Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, and Saturday Night Live
32 M. Thumann (coda) did mention to me that she had read a coda letter and instinctively felt that is was ungrammatical. Whether this means there are rules for coda-talk at this actually means linguistically has not yet been determined.
33 This term is commonly understood to mean a hearing person speaking English while signing (although Deaf people may also sign and speak at the same time)
34 For a more detailed discussion see Johnson R., Liddell S., Erting C. (1989). Unlocking the Curriculum: Principles for Achieving Access in Deaf Education.
35 Excerpt from “True Stories” by Molly R. Wilson 2003 for an anthology of writings by Codas, Kodas and Deaf Parents being compiled by Tom Bull.
36 This story was generously donated by A. Abarbanell, April 2003
37 For further information on this kind of experience see, “Ordinary Evils”, the ‘notekey’ address given by Bob Hoffmeister at the 2002 CODA conference in Philadelphia.
38 For deeper discussion on of whether contact sign should be considered a pidgin, see Lane, Hoffmeister and Bahan (1996)
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