Hearing, native signers: identity formation through code-blending of ASL and English





CODA-TALK1 :The interplay between sign and spoken language in establishing a third identity for hearing people from deaf families

Many hearing people from deaf families (Codas or children of deaf adults) develop a “third language” as a way to express an identity that reflects both hearing and deaf worlds but which combines to form a third and separate identity. This spoken and signed variation incorporates American Sign Language (ASL) grammar, the aural input from deaf family members (deaf voice imitation)2 and lexicon and limited grammatical structures from English. This study researches the language patterns found in both written and spoken data to determine how English and ASL come together structurally in a bimodal bilingual as well as the sociolinguistic factors behind this unique type of code-blending.

The findings indicate that in Coda-only environments or forums, many grammatical structures of their native sign language appear using English as the vehicle for written and spoken expression. For spoken communication, this includes using English words that follow ASL grammatical structures. Some of those features are:
- a. an absence of overt subjects
- b. the absence of English determiners
- c. no copulas
- d. an absence of overt objects
- e. a lack of prepositions
- f. altering the verb inflections in a non-English like manner

The dual modality bilingualism of a hearing person from a deaf family creates the potential for unique language usage due to the ability to sign and speak at the same time and for language play3 due to the two modalities of expression (oral and manual). Very little work has been done to examine what adults are doing when they draw from both languages simultaneously or the importance of this code-blending in the establishment of an identity that reflects both deaf and hearing cultural and linguistic identities.


1 Coda-talk is the name created by people from deaf families to describe their own speech patterns that are a combination of English and American Sign Language. “Coda” stands for hearing Children Of Deaf Adults.

2 Many Codas use “deaf voice” while speaking and will do so with or without

signing. This is the purposeful imitation of the speech patterns of deaf parents. Most hearing people are aware that many deaf people have unclear speech and a nasal quality to the speech

3 There is also evidence of “back translation” and the creation of novel lexicon in English that is the direct result of knowledge of American Sign Language.

Session: Paper session
Code-Switching 2
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 10