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Sign language in Burma: two Burmese finger spelling systems used in Yangon

Justin, Watkins (2010) Sign language in Burma: two Burmese finger spelling systems used in Yangon. In: Burma Studies Conference 2010: Burma in the Era of Globalization, 6-9 July 2010, Université de Provence, Marseille, France. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

On a series of recent visits to Yangon, I have looked into the use of sign language in the Mary Chapman School for the Deaf, and among certain members of the Deaf community in Yangon more widely. The classroom teachers in the school are all hearing, and the language of instruction is Burmese, either in written form or in spoken form with some signed support. Sign language is not formally part of the curriculum. The fingerspelling alphabet poster displayed on the wall in each classroom is one adapted from ASL fingerspelling. In this system, the ASL sign used for a Burmese letter is the one which matches the sound, e.g. ASL ‘L’ for Burmese lá, ASL ‘W’ for Burmese wá, with some additions and adaptations. For example ASL ‘N’ is used for Burmese ná-ngeh; the orientation of the hand is changed to make the sign for ná-jì. It is not clear how systematically this ASL-derived system is taught in the school, or how widely it is known amongst the pupils. An indigenous system which preceded this one was in use in the school in the 1970s and 1980s and is still known and used by Deaf signers in Yangon who were in the school at that time. It is based on the graphic forms of the Burmese script. This presentation demonstrates the older system, including examples of whole-word spellings, from film made in Yangon in June 2010.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Items (Lecture)
Keywords: Burmese Yangon sign language fingerspelling
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia
Depositing User: Justin Watkins
Date Deposited: 24 Sep 2010 14:21
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/10275

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