ANGELA M. NONAKA, while a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, California, was awarded a grant in December 2002 to aid research on '`Pasa Bai:' Language Socialization of an Indigenous Sign Language in a Northeastern Thai Village,' supervised by Dr. Elinor R. Ochs. Ban Khor is a rural Thai village with an unusually large deaf population and an indigenous sign language, pasa bai (language deaf/mute), which spontaneously arose in the community 60 to 80 years ago. Although it once thrived - developing rapidly, spreading widely among both hearing and deaf villagers, and socio-communicatively managing deafness in the community - Ban Khor Sign Language and the delicate sociolinguistic ecology surrounding it are now threatened by demographic shift, socioeconomic change, and language contact with the national sign language. This is unfortunate for many reasons. For example, pasa bai exhibits rare linguistic features that enhance understanding of language typologies and language universals. Moreover, villagers' response to widespread hereditary deafness expands anthropological understanding of subjects ranging from the definition of a ''speech' community' to the social construction of disability. Language endangerment and its extended implications for sociocultural diversity are growing concerns for anthropologists. Despite increasing awareness of the problem, indigenous sign languages and their attendant speech communities remain among the world's least studied and most vulnerable languages and cultures. The project was conducted during calendar year 2003 with three concurrent goals: 1) to document the existence of Ban Khor Sign Language and the Ban Khor speech community; 2) to trace the ethnographic particulars of the emergence, spread, and decline of the local sign language; and 3) to develop a case study examining indigenous sign language endangerment in relation to language socialization practices, language ideologies, and cultural ecology.
Nonaka, Angela. 2004. The Forgotten Endangered Languages: Lessons on the Importance of Remembering from Thailand’s Ban Khor Sign Language. Language in Society 33(5):737-767.