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Kata Kolok

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Bengkala is not marked on most maps,
and even in the nearest city, Singaraja,
few people know of the village or the
extraordinary situation that obtains
there. In Bengkala, 2.2% of the villagers
are congenitally deaf. This level of
incidence is extremely high when
compared with, for example, the USA,
where less than 0.1% of children are
born with a severe hearing impairment. Deafness in Bengkala is caused by a recessive gene that is wide-spread in the village population. The gene (known as DFNB3) appears to cause shortened
hair cells in the cochlea and profound deafness as a result, and there are no known other characteristics that set deaf individuals apart from the other villagers. There are at present forty-six deaf signers in a village of little more than 2,000 inhabitants.

A very striking feature here is that a sign language has emerged that is used by both deaf and hearing members of the community. Deaf villagers use signs to communicate with their hearing relatives, as well as many of their hearing friends and colleagues, and approximately two thirds of Bengkala’s hearing population can understand and use this indigenous sign language with varying degrees of proficiency. For the reasons stated above, the Balinese refer to Bengkala as Desa Kolok — which is Balinese for ‘deaf village’ — and its sign language as Kata Kolok ‘deaf talk’. Kata Kolok currently functions in all major aspects of village life including politics, gossip, Hindu ceremonies, as well as a local deaf school. The language has been acquired from birth by at least five generations of deaf, native signers. Kata Kolok is thus a fully-fledged sign language in every sense of the word. Notably, the language is grammatically distinct from and historically unrelated to the sign language varieties used in other parts of Bali, and Indonesia.

Connie de Vos has focused on describing and documenting the language adopting fieldwork-based corpus construction methods. The Kata Kolok corpus is maintained jointly by the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and by the International institute for Sign Languages and Deaf Studies in Preston (UK). Currently, this archive comprises 150 hours of high-quality video data. Translations in Indonesian and English make sections of the corpus accessible to a national and international academic audience. A sub-corpus of spontaneous conversational data includes informal group conversations among deaf and hearing villagers as well as culturally entrenched monologues such as stories of a deaf ghost and Balinese cock fights. A special  section of the Kata Kolok corpus charted the development of two deaf toddlers growing up in deaf families over the course of two years. In collaboration with I Ketut Kanta, the head of the community's Deaf Alliance, these documentation activities are being continued as part of the ELPD project on Longitudinal Documentation of Sign Language Acquisition in a Deaf Village and the ERC INTERACT project. Metadata of the archive can be viewed online via the IMDI-browser.






Branson, J., Miller, D., & Marsaja, I. G. (1996). Everyone Here Speaks Sign Language, Too: A Deaf Village in Bali, Indonesia. In C. Lucas (Ed.), Multicultural Aspects of Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, 39-57. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Branson, J., Miller, D., & Marsaja, I. G. (1999). Sign Languages as Natural Part of the Linguistic Mosaic: The Impact of Deaf People on Discourse Forms in Northern Bali, Indonesia. In E. Winston (Ed.), Storytelling and Conversation (Vol. 5). Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

De Vos, C. (2012). Kata Kolok: An updated sociolinguistic profile. In U. Zeshan (Ed.), Sign languages in village communities: Anthropological and linguistic insights (pp. 381-386). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

De Vos, C. (2012). Sign-spatiality in Kata Kolok: How a village sign language in Bali inscribes its signing space. PhD Thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen.

De Vos, C. (2012). The Kata Kolok perfective in child signing: Coordination of manual and non-manual components. In U. Zeshan, & C. De Vos (Eds.), Sign languages in village communities: Anthropological and linguistic insights (pp. 127-152). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

De Vos, C. (2011). Kata Kolok color terms and the emergence of lexical signs in rural signing communities. The Senses & Society, 6(1), 68-76. doi:10.2752/174589311X12893982233795. more >

Liang, Y., Wang, A., Probst, F. J., Arhya, I. N., Barber, T. D., Chen, K.-S., et al. (1998). Genetic Mapping Refines DFNB3 to 17p11.2, Suggests Multiple Alleles of DFNB3, and Supports Homology to the Mouse Model shaker-2. American Journal of Human Genetics, 62, 904-915.

Marsaja, I. G. (2008). Desa Kolok - A deaf village and its sign language in Bali, Indonesia. Nijmegen: Ishara Press.

Perniss, P., & Zeshan, U. (2008). Possessive and existential constructions in Kata Kolok. In P. Perniss & U. Zeshan (Eds.), Possessive and existential constructions in sign languages. Sign Language Typology Series No. 2. Nijmegen: Ishara Press.

Zeshan, U., & De Vos, C. (Eds.). (2012). Sign languages in village communities: Anthropological and linguistic insights. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. more >



    Last checked 2017-12-16 by Mark Dingemanse
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    Portrait of Connie de Vos

    Connie de Vos

    Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
    PO Box 310
    6500 AH Nijmegen
    The Netherlands