People in Philadelphia speak with a distinctive Philly accent, and those who converse in sign language are no different. The area is known for having one of the most distinctive regional sign-language accents, and two researchers based at the University of Pennsylvania are trying to figure out why.
In sign language, an accent is apparent in how words are signed differently—it’s a lexical difference, similar to how some Americans say “pop” while others say “soda,” explains Meredith Tamminga, one of the professors conducting the research, in a statement.
Jami Fisher, her co-researcher, told PRI that many words in Philadelphia sign language are different from the American Sign Language standard. She added:
“The sign for hospital is exceptionally different from what standard ASL would be, among other things. To the point where the signs are not able to be deciphered based on what they look like…. People say, ‘Oh, you talk weird,’ or, ‘You sign strange.’”
In many ways, Philadelphia sign language is more French than ASL. As PRI reports, the first sign-language teacher in the United States, Laurent Clerc, was a Frenchman. ASL has evolved to a distinctive American sign language over time, but the Philadelphia version maintains more of its French roots.