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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

Country Names in Sign Languages

P W Matthews
D McKee
R McKee
ICOS, New Zealand

Over the last forty years, there has been considerable international work on country names, their exonyms and their standardization. This work has been based on official written names. In contrast, this paper examines several issues relating to nonwritten country names within Deaf communities. First, the various systems used to form country names within signed languages are outlined. These can include "descriptive" semantic etymology based on behavioural traits of individuals from the countries, elements transferred from the spoken or written form of a name, via mouthing, finger spelling (using a manual alphabet), and loan translation of all or part of the name. Second, four issues in regard to country name signs are commented on, namely (a) the relationship between official languages and signed languages, (b) generational differences in the use of specific country names, (c) the influence of political correctness on country names, and (d) the work of the World Federation of the Deaf on country names, specifically the publication of Gestuno in 1975 and the consequential development of International Sign Pidgin. The final matter to be treated is exonyms and their standardization in signed rather than written languages.

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