Barbara LeMaster's Irish Sign Language Research


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LeMaster's ISL Research: What is it all about?




 LeMaster's work dates back to 1984.  Her work explores gender and generational variations within Irish Sign Language and their social implications and focuses on the history of Irish Sign Language differences within St. Mary's school for Deaf girls and St. Joseph's school for Deaf boys (see pictures below). 


 If you would like to see a short Quicktime movie to get a glimpse of the current project organized with a large collection of data on 4,000 vocabulary, sponsored by NSF #0318498 from November 2003-January 2005 , press here. Or for a larger-file Quicktime movie--press Here.



Examples of Gender Differences in ISL


"APPLE" Female Sign "APPLE" Male Sign "DAUGHTER" Female Sign "DAUGHTER" Male Sign




The Deaf Schools of Ireland


St. Mary's School for Deaf Girls  St. Joseph's School for Deaf Boys



Grant aids sign language research
By Sarah Thigpen
On-line Forty-Niner

For many people around the world, sign language is the only connection between their silent world, and others around them.
Because of the differences in culture around the world, some of the original versions of sign language are being lost due to the fact that the only keepers of the language, the speakers themselves, are old and dying. One of these versions is an ancient form of gender Irish Sign Language.
For Barbara LeMaster, an anthropology and linguistics professor at Cal State Long Beach, help is on the way. LeMaster has recently been given a $74,482 grant from The National Science Foundation. This grant enables LeMaster to continue her research on a form of sign language originated in Dublin, Ireland.
LeMaster, an expert of deaf culture, began her research of Irish Sign Language almost 20 years ago. Unfortunately, LeMaster was unable to return to Ireland until three years ago to continue her research.
As a result of this grant, LeMaster will be returning to Ireland in July in conjunction with her research.
No documented language, spoken or signed, has as extreme gender differences as [Irish Sign Language]," LeMaster said. "I'm interested in how different the two gender languages are from each other, and how the genders resolve those differences."
According to LeMaster, in certain sections of the Dublin community, the native vocabularies for deaf men and deaf women are so different that they can impair communications on the most mundane topics. This is a result of men and women going to different schools to learn the language.
According to LeMaster, the documentation of gender Irish Sign Language is important for a number of reasons.
"Unlike other gender different situations, these gender varieties are the product of language socialization experiences that completely segregated males and females," LeMaster said. "As though deaf girls and boys grew up on separate islands."
LeMaster does have one benefit that she did not have when she began this journey 20 years ago. Modern technology has made it easier for researchers to study, record and preserve rare languages that are rapidly disappearing. With the help of computers, LeMaster can look at different signs for the same word at the same time.
"It's my goal to create a DVD dictionary of gendered Irish Sign Language so that anyone may access it," LeMaster said.
This 15-month grant gives LeMaster a chance to complete the work that she began so long ago. Once her dictionary is completed, any future work tracking the dissemination of these gendered signs and meaning will always be associated with LeMaster.


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LeMaster's Irish Sign Language Publications


LeMaster, B., Rezenet Moges, Christopher Trueblood. 2007. ""Gendered Phonology in Irish Sign Language" to be published in the proceedings of the 4th International Gender and Language Association meetings held in Valencia, Spain.
LeMaster, B.  2006.  Language Contraction, Revitalization and Irish Women.  In Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 16:2:211-228
LeMaster, B. and L. Monaghan. 2004. “Variation in Sign Languages.” In Alessandro Duranti (Ed.) A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology. Blackwell Press. Pp. 141-166.
LeMaster, B. 2003. "School Language and Shifts in Irish Deaf Identity." In Leila Monaghan, Constance Schmaling, Karen Nakamura, and Graham Turner (Eds.), Many Ways to be Deaf: International Variation in Deaf Communities. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.  Pp. 153-172.

LeMaster, B. 2002 "What Difference does Difference Make?: Negotiating gender and generation in Irish Sign Language."   In
Bunin Benor, Sarah, Mary Rose, Devyani Sharma, Julie Sweetland and Qing Zhang (eds.). 2001. Gendered Practices in Language. Stanford, CA: CSLI Press.

For more information on this publication please visit the Gender Practices in Language Website.

LeMaster, B. "Reappropriation of Gendered Irish Sign Language in One Family." Visual Anthropology Review. Volume 15,
Number 2 Fall/Winter 1999-2000.

LeMaster, B. 2003 "School Language and Shifts in Irish Deaf Identity." In Leila Monaghan, Constance Schmaling, Karen Nakamura, and Graham Turner (Eds.), Many Ways

to be Deaf: International Variation In Deaf Communities. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press. Pp. 153-172.

LeMaster, B. 1998 "Irish Deaf Identity." In Sign Language Communication Studies: The Quarterly of the Japan Institute for Sign Language Studies. Published by the Japanese Institute

for Sign Language Studies, an affiliate organization of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf. This paper has been translated into the Japanese language. Volume 1998.9, No. 29, 

pp. 12-19.  

                     LeMaster, B.  1997.  "Sex Differences in Irish Sign Language."  In:  The Life of Language:  Papers in Linguistics in Honor of William Bright.  Jane H. Hill, P. J. Mistry, Lyle Campbell (Editors). Mouton De Gruyter

                     LeMaster, B.  1993 "When Women and Men Talk Differently: Language and policy in the Dublin deaf community," for Irish Towns and Cities:  Anthropological Perspectives on Urban Life,  T. Wilson, H. Donnan, C. Curtin (editors).  The Queen's University of Belfast: Belfast, Ireland.  

LeMaster, B.  (1990).  The Maintenance and Loss of Female and Male Signs in the Dublin Deaf Community. Doctoral Dissertation.  UCLA:  CA.  

LeMatser, B. and S. Foran. (1986) "The Irish Sign Language."  The Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness, McGraw-Hill:NY




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