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Building the tower of Babel: International Sign, linguistic commensuration, and moral orientation

  • E. Mara Green (a1)

This article examines International Sign (IS), a mode of signed cross-linguistic communication, in the context of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). I contend that the WFD General Assembly's language policy, which bans interpreters and requires that delegates use IS, formalizes the commonsense deaf notion that what is particular about deaf people is their capacity for connecting across differences, rooted in and materialized through the ability to use sign across language boundaries. While such an ability has been explained primarily in terms of the affordances of the visual-gestural modality, this article foregrounds and theorizes the irreducibly relational dimensions of linguistic commensuration. I argue that communicating in IS relies on and produces mutual moral orientation among signers, and that ultimately, it is the labor involved in using IS that deaf people value and that the WFD General Assembly institutionalizes. (International Sign, sign language, deaf, linguistic commensuration, moral orientation)*

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