Deaf people with “no language”: Mobility and flexible accumulation in languaging practices of deaf people in Cambodia

Erin Moriarty Harrelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)
373 Downloads (Pure)


Deaf people in Cambodia are often represented in the media as lacking
language but in reality, deaf people’s repertoires and communicative practices
challenge essentialisms regarding modalities and conventional understandings
of “language.” Drawing on fieldwork in Cambodia, this article examines how
notions of an urban/rural dichotomy devalue the communicative practices of
rural deaf people. These ideologies marginalize the creative deployment of
various modalities by deaf people in everyday languaging that are not commonly
indexed as parts of a linguistic repertoire. Communicative practices such
as drawing a picture to communicate, gestures, the use of physical objects such
as city maps are devalued because academics and lay people tend to have rigid
conceptualizations of language. This article calls for closer attention to modalities
such as gestures, the drawing of pictures and the use of physical objects in
everyday languaging to interrogate how the “invention” of languages results in
distinctions between groups and individuals, especially in terms of access to
linguistic resources such as a national signed language and perceptions about
the use of modalities other than signing or speaking. In NGO narratives, often
echoed by deaf Cambodians themselves, deaf people acquire a signed language
only after rural-urban migration, which misrepresents their communicative
competencies and creative use of linguistic resources. In reality, deaf people’s
linguistic repertoires are constantly expanding as they enter new spaces, resulting
in the flexible accumulation of languaging practices and modalities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied Linguistics Review
Early online date21 Oct 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Oct 2017


  • translanguaging
  • signed languages
  • multimodality


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