Areas of Study


This study investigates the use of American Sign Language to establish and maintain social distance between Deaf undergraduate students and Deaf faculty members.

One of the functions of language is to mark social standing and convey respect between interactants. Drawing on prior studies of spoken language in postsecondary settings, in this study we examine the use of address terms, reference terms, and introductions in ASL:

  • Address terms are used in language to get attention, to single out an addressee, and to convey social and interpersonal meanings between individuals.
  • Reference terms convey social and interpersonal meanings and provide cues for the existing relationship between the speaker and the referred person.
  • Introductions reflect the current relationship between people and how people expect the newly acquainted individuals to address each other.
The study will engage in two types of data collection:
  • observational data of natural language interaction; and
  • interview data with deaf undergraduate students and deaf faculty about their use and perceptions of these linguistic forms.
The results will shed light on how deaf students and faculty create and sustain social distance and boundaries in the postsecondary setting.
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Address practices of deaf undergraduate students and deaf faculty: A study of language use, identity, and community

Helen Thumann



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