Language Emergence as Condensation in the Seattle Deaf-Blind Community

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Terra Edwards
Date and Time: 
Monday, May 20, 2013 - 12:00pm

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


This paper examines the socio-genesis of a tactile language currently emerging among Deaf-Blind people in Seattle, Washington. Language emergence has been understood in recent work on signed languages as a moment when form-meaning correspondences abstract away from the contexts of their use. Language emergence in the Seattle Deaf-Blind community suggests instead that via “condensation”, the linguistic system grows dense with its history of use. Most members of this community were born deaf and due to a genetic condition have been losing their vision slowly over the course of many years. In 2007, collective efforts shifted from developing compensatory strategies for accessing visual fields of engagement to bringing a tactile field of engagement into being. Drawing on more than 40 hours of videotaped interaction, one year of sustained ethnographic fieldwork, and more than 14 years of involvement in this community, I sketch the process through which relations of embedding in a visual world grew thin and broke apart, how the rubble was recuperated and reconfigured, and how a new tactile language and new forms of tactile subjectivity began to cohere. Condensation is put forth as a key concept for an anthropological approach to language emergence.


Terra Edwards is a PhD candidate in the department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. More information about her research can be found at:

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