Pointy Helmets and Buckteeth: Naming in Sign Language – an Exploration
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Proper names exist in all cultures and carry a special meaning for the name bearers and name givers. Within the Deaf community, names given can be for official or everyday usage as well as restricted to use only within the family. Special sign names are given to children, people close to the family as well as ‘visitors’ to the culture. This seems to aid socialization within the community and impact on the name bearer’s identity. Three rules for creating name signs can be distinguished: arbitrary, descriptive and mixed. I am discussing whether this affects a multi-lingual or mono-lingual use of the signs in terms of internal and/or external access to the names stock. Pragmatic functions of name sign use are highlighted and questions like the existence of a dominant type raised. The paper considers the formation and use of proper names in British Sign Language (BSL). References to ‘neighbouring’ languages like English and American Sign Language (ASL) are made. I am working with a small set of data from a class of sign language ‘visitors’, native speaking tutors and beyond in a British context.