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An Autoethnography of a Life in Sign Language

Noel O'Connell

This book weaves intensely personal and evocative stories into a layered autoethnographic text about the author’s experience of childhood deafness, sign language and education. Interwoven with the performative narrative are powerful stories of stigma, trauma, friendships, relationships, love, isolation and displacement. Using interpretative and reflective analysis, the author explores the storied experience of self and belonging in family and school contexts, providing both personal and theoretical perspectives on language and culture. He traces the pathways he has taken in pursuit of a true sense of belonging in society, community and place.

This is an important contribution to the study of sign language, deaf education, disability and deaf health and well-being. It will be of interest to professionals and practitioners working with deaf children and parents and to students and researchers within social policy, social medicine, psychology, sociology, early childhood studies and special education.


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Chapter 5: Gender, Love, Language and Relationships


Chapter 5 Gender, Love, Language and Relationships [social science] that doesn’t break your heart just isn’t worth doing anymore — Ruth Behar (1996, The Vulnerable Observer) Gender Relations My story is constructed as a layered narrative that “blend traditional and creative forms [of research and writing] with analysis and story coexisting side by side” (Bochner and Ellis 2016, p. 206). The account is layered with personal stories, analysis, history and theory. It juxtaposes the personal with the socio-historical dimensions of lived experience. I situate my story in the context of Irish Sign Language (ISL) history because my experience of lan- guage is embedded in my past relationships with St Joseph’s and St Mary’s. In my time at school, it was not unusual for Catholic deaf children to be segregated by gender. LeMaster (2000, p. 71) points out that, though the schools were located within close proximity to each other, they were not “within visual distance” for the children to see each other’s language from the school grounds. Given the fact that children lived on two “separate islands” (LeMaster 2000) or “communication islands” (Grehan 2008), there was little opportunity for social interaction between the two groups. LeMaster (2000, p. 71) contends that ISL may have started out the same in the schools but, over time, had “undergone dramatic lexical form diversification through normal language change mechanism for historically separated languages”. She took notice of the lexical differences that exist between “male signs” and “female signs” and points to gender segregation as a...

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