There’s a Philly Sign Language Accent

Speech with a drawl, twang, clipped consonants, broad vowels, slurred words or extra diphthongs might give away that the speaker is from the American South, Boston, the Midwest or elsewhere. The spice that a certain region may lend to spoken language can even be strong enough to flavor non-audible language as well. Indeed, American Sign Language (ASL) has its own accents. And like its audible counterpart, one of the strongest regional accents in ASL is that of Philadelphia residents, reports Nina Porzucki for PRI.

Researchers based at the University of Pennsylvania are documenting Philly ASL and asking exactly what makes it special. Leading the effort is linguistics lecturer Jami Fisher, who has a unique connection to the language: Her parents and her brother are all deaf, so she grew up signing in Philadelphia. She says she doesn’t sign with her hometown’s accent, but she does understand it.

“When most people talk about a dialect, in spoken languages and sign languages too, a lot of what they center on are lexical differences, differences in words,” Fisher tells PRI. “For example, the sign for hospital is exceptionally different from what standard ASL would be, among other things.” She says that someone from another part of the country wouldn’t recognize some of the signs used by Philly ASL signers.

Read more: Smithsonian

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