Past the glimmering industrial developments and fast food chains of the northern Negev desert in Israel, I pull off the dusty highway into the quiet village of Al-Sayyid. A family of 22 awaits me outside their home, greeting me with sage tea. The children introduce me to the family pets: a horse, a brood of chickens and a camel. Meanwhile, the head of the household, Ishak al-Sayyid, recounts his family’s history, shifting between Arabic, Hebrew and a language I don’t understand.
Ishak’s family have lived here for generations. They are members of the Al-Sayyid Bedouin tribe, founded 200 years ago by an Egyptian peasant who moved here after a family feud then married several local women. Shaykh al-Sayyid’s children married among themselves after being rejected as outsiders by neighbouring tribes. What they did not know was that two of them carried a recessive gene for congenital deafness.
In their late teens, a number of boys from Al-Sayyid were exposed to native ISL from deaf teachers at a residential vocational school, while some teenaged girls and young women were exposed to ISL at social meetings for deaf people, whose organizers are ISL signers. In both environments, young deaf people have been exposed to ISL proper (not only to signs from ISL). However, both exposures took place in the late teens and early twenties – long after the critical period for language acquisition.16 And within the village, older deaf people, pre-school deaf children, hearing family members, and other hearing people maintain ABSL. Communication patterns also favor maintenance of ABSL. Apart from forays into ISL environments, the young deaf people of Al-Sayyid reside in the village, and the vast majority of their communicative inter- actions take place with their family members, spouses, and neighbors – deaf and hearing. This may not be typical pidginization or creolization, but rather rapid language change in a very young language, affected by borrowing. Still there is no question that many ISL signs have been borrowed into ABSL.