The chief aims of this book are to bridge some of the gaps in the research, to encourage further studies of this subject, and to draw attention to this little known and often overlooked part of Native American heritage. A corpus of previously collected language documentary materials from archival sources has been the focus of the research carried out for this book and featured on the website for the book. To develop this language corpus, we considered over 10,000 lexical sign descriptions and illustrations from both archival and contemporary sources spanning a two-hundred year period (1800-2000).
In this book, Davis addresses several long standing questions: Do the documented cases of North American Indian Sign Language constitute one language with a variety of dialects, or a variety of distinct languages? What evidence do we find of historical relatedness with ASL-such as language contact and lexical borrowing? What might have happened when the sign language of the larger hearing native community was acquired as a first language by deaf members of these groups? To help illuminate these questions and others, additional linguistic research of the language corpus was conducted based on new discoveries, and current methodologies and theories.
In the preparation of this book and accompanying website, great care has been taken to consider the best ways to maintain and preserve North American Indian signed language varieties. It is hoped that this book will encourage additional studies of these rarefied and endangered signed language varieties, and demonstrate the importance of language preservation, documentation, description, and revitalization in general.
For more than three decades, Jeffrey Davis has worked extensively in the field as an interpreter, teacher, and ethnographer. He has published over thirty research articles and chapters on the subjects of sign language linguistics, multilingualism, interpretation, and translation. Dr. Davis has publushed a new volume (2010, seventh in a series from Gallaudet University Press) about Sign Language Interpreting in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts. There are a few excerpts from the book along with other research located here.