Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Linguistic Anthropology, Barnard College

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Berkeley
Everyday Signs: Rural Deaf Nepalis, Social Interaction, and the Remaking of Language

My research investigates how deaf people in rural Nepal engage in daily life in the absence of an accessible, pre-existing language. While an estimated 5500 deaf people in urban areas use Nepali Sign Language (NSL), deaf villagers - far from deaf schools, organizations, and social networks - acquire neither NSL nor the local spoken language(s). Prior scholarship on deaf people who have access to neither spoken nor signed language has focused almost exclusively on documenting the gestural systems that develop in these circumstances. In contrast, my project utilizes ethnographic and linguistic anthropological analysis to explore how social actors, faced with the need to re-make language, experience and negotiate their everyday worlds. In concrete terms, I will not only analyze the gestural systems that people create in the absence of access to "language" as it is generally conceived, but also account for how these systems develop through, mediate, and shape interpersonal interactions, local contexts, and embodied social practices. By documenting ordinary life as lived by rural deaf Nepalis, my work seeks to contribute to fundamental understandings of the culturally specific relationships between how people use communicative systems, on the one hand, and how people become cultural beings, on the other.