From seeing to feeling: How do deafblind people adapt visual sign languagues?

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In this chapter, we consider how people who are born deaf and lose their sight later in life go about adapting Australian sign language (Auslan) for tactile delivery and reception. We show that some adaptations have become highly conventionalised among our participants, while others remain ad-hoc, but all have an underlying logic that revolves around the particular challenges of perceiving what was a visual language via touch alone. Tactile Auslan is constantly shaped by deafblind signers’ discourse, the actual use of language. Along with the signers’ past experiences with the language, and with their physical and environmental changes, their interaction creates recognizable patterns. In light of this, we reflect on how the concept of enregisterment may serve as a way of theorising the adaptation process of deafblind signers’ use of Auslan, and understanding the sedimentation of tactile signing into conventionalised meanings.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDynamics of Language Changes
Subtitle of host publicationLooking Within and Across Languages
EditorsKeith Allan
Place of PublicationGateway Singapore
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9789811564307
ISBN (Print)9789811564291
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Auslan
  • Deafblind
  • Enregisterment
  • Tactile sign language
  • Translanguaging

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