Linguistics professor Julie A. Hochgesang, G-’07 & PhD ’14, gave the welcoming plenary addresses at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America last week at the Washington Hilton. Dr. Hochgesang was the first Gallaudet alumna and the third deaf person in the organization’s history to make an invited plenary presentation, following Dr. Carol A. Padden in 2007 and Dr. Ted Supalla in 2012.

Dr. Hochgesang’s presentation was titled “Documenting signed language use while considering our spaces as a Deaf linguist.” The LSA daily newsletter reported as follows:

Dr. Hochgesang reviewed her analysis of studies made of deaf and ASL-using communities. She noted that in 87% of the surveyed studies, the authors failed to discuss their relationship with the sign language community. Seventy-six percent did not address whether the author had any experience with or knowledge of signing. 

Beyond questions of the author’s relationship to signing, other analyses looked to the way that sign language was represented in the studies themselves. Very few of the studies referenced the source signs used. Indeed, most studies only used glosses or translations of the signs rather than any kind of data about the signs which were used. Overall, Dr. Hochgesang noted, there was very little transparency, explicit reflection of positionality, or consideration of representation and accessibility of data in the studies she reviewed.

Dr. Hochgesang identified three tools to address these problems:

 (1) Ethical consideration for spaces. This ethical consideration includes adopting principles for working with deaf or sign language communities, adapted from principles used with indigenous communities. This approach reflects the idea that deaf community users of the language are the main stakeholders and have the right to decide how their language is represented.

(2) Representational practices. Traditionally, sign languages have relied on written text, including glossing and notation. Dr. Hochgesang advocated a method (known as #glossgesang) of presenting signs in a visual format of videos or images, without having to rely on glossing.

(3) Information sharing. Data is central to research. Documenting sign language and making it available is essential to ensuring information sharing. The O5S5 project documented in video the experiences of the deaf and signing community during the Covid pandemic.

In all, thoughtful consideration of the relationship that linguists have toward deaf and sign language-using communities, and improving the documentation and the representation of sign language are vital in ensuring that the lack of transparency long associated with sign language linguistics can be remedied.

Dr. Hochgesang presented live, with about 60 people in the audience and hundreds more watching online. Her presentation was recorded for future viewing.

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