For all that the rest of the world stands to learn from these sign languages, they are most important to the villagers themselves. To ensure that academics can enter these insular places with the least possible disruption, Zeshan collaborates with deaf researchers from the local countries. Their goal is to help people make informed choices about the future of their languages, before, like the one on Martha’s Vineyard, they disappear.
Joshua J. Friedman, a former editor at the Atlantic and Boston Review, is a writer in New York City. He can be reached at joshuajfriedman.com.