Essay on Deaf Culture and Deaf Language
Deaf people mostly are regarded as individuals who cannot hear due to their lacking auditory capability. They have specific deficiencies in hearing system and cannot communicate either by hearing or speaking. Deaf people are different from other peoples of society forming separate social groups, speak own language, mostly attend different universities, have own magazines, and special sports events including Olympics. With the help of modern developments in deaf language, deaf people can communicate with more ease and express their viewpoint comfortably. Therefore, they are satisfied with their lifestyle, how they spend their days, eventually leading a happy life. However, they are isolated from hearing cultures, in everyday life, in hotels, restaurants, banks, etc. In other words, their culture is different from others and distinctive from the cultural values exhibited by the hearing people.
Deaf Culture - Distinctive and Isolated
Traditionally, deaf people were taught through different oral methods focusing on developing speaking skills of deaf people. This approach was later on replaced by modern views that require developing communication abilities in infants long before they are able to speak. They are taught deaf language known as sign language from childhood to communicate easily when they are grown. Throughout the world, distinctive yet exclusive language has been developed for the deaf people to become a part of common culture. (Padden, 2003)
Similar to any other cultural or linguistic group, deaf people share common values and communicate in their own sign language. Deaf people, nowadays, are found at every level of public or private level within communities and successful as other hearing people. The second language of deaf people is English with sign language as the first one. However, due to a general attitude, deaf people are isolated and have formed minority groups living in their own culture, speaking their own language, communicating through their own way.
It is pertinent to mention that deafness is more than just a medical condition, rather it is a way of life with own language, traditions, behavior, and overall distinctive culture. Due to biased attitude of hearing people, deaf community has developed distrust because they are viewed as disable or sick people needing medication. Similar to other groups, deaf community also has a feeling of self-respect or self-esteem. In other words members of deaf culture share a common sense of pride. They strive to remove their inability of not speaking or hearing with the help of sign language. Deaf language, therefore, is playing a vital role in formation and support of deaf culture uniting deaf people in one community.
Hearing people should not try to avoid deaf people and treat them as an isolated group. With the development and advancements in genetic technologies deaf people are playing their due role in the community. For supporting deaf community, it is ethical for hearing people to embrace deaf culture and accept them as a normal linguistic as well as cultural community. Deafness, in fact, is not a disability and societies should treat them just like any other social group. People in deaf community, nowadays, live a normal life, driving, cooking, caring for others, paying their bills, and working like other normal people.
The term deafness is used to describe people having inability to hear. Deafness is a cultural and social phenomenon existing in every country and society of the world. People in deaf communities share a common perception creating a distinctive social, cultural, and linguistic community. The main feature of deaf culture is their language that distinguishes them from other hearing persons.
It is pertinent to highlight that deaf culture and hearing cultures are the two extremes existing in the society. Both groups have different set of cultural, linguistics, and social values. They have different beliefs, norms, and attitudes. Hearing culture and deaf cultures, therefore, belong to different worlds. Both communities do not interact socially with each other and remain in their own boundary lines. Deaf communities belong to a culture in which different social and linguistic aspects are exhibited in comparison with people belonging to hearing cultures. Deaf communities include people with hearing impairments, however, isolated from normal social and cultural groups comprising hearing people.
There are different problems existing in the deaf cultures. Deaf people generally have less access to communicate with hearing people and sharing information with them. Many deaf persons face serious problems in the ordinary life, like visiting a doctor, getting medical treatments, interacting with lawyers, engineers, insurance companies etc. They also have low access to different sports as well as religious events. They cannot view most of the programs shown on televisions as no interpretation facility is available so they could understand it.
Deaf people have low access to information and education compared with other hearing people. The main method of teaching is the oral sign language and no written way of education available to deaf people. Their chances of studying at high level, for example at university level, are quite low. In other words, educational facilities, especially at the highest level are limited for the people in deaf communities. Deaf culture has high limitations as deaf people are mostly ignorant of their cultural heritage and different other social events. Studies have shown that most of the deaf children are born in families having deaf parents. Since both cultures- hearing and deaf- are separate and significantly different with each other, the integration of both communities is considered an impossible factor. (Padden, 1990)
Everyday and Routine Life of Deaf People
Deaf culture comprises people with own habits, patterns, customs, language and values. Deaf people consider them a minority group and not as individuals having disabilities. As a different minority and a separate culture they regard each other as a family feeling closer to each other and one community throughout the world. Due to common language, communication, and a separate culture, deaf people prefer spending time with other, marrying their own kind, and choosing their own kinds as mate or friend. (Lane, 1996)
It is pertinent to highlight that movement of accepting deaf as a separate cultural group and not disabled persons has become a part of human rights movement. To support their movement of acknowledging them as a cultural group, deaf language has supported their cause uniting them. Sign language has been accepted by different educational and governmental institutions equivalent to other foreign languages. This language, in most of the cases, is taught by deaf teachers to other deaf students. The way of teaching includes telling stories, singing songs, and narrating dramas. This increases chances of interaction between deaf people and proves as an effective way of interpreting and elucidating point-of-view.
Through deaf language, deaf people can communicate with each other, expressing their thoughts, sharing their views, and describing their opinions or beliefs. The language has taken a modern perspective and commonly known as sign language, however, deaf language was born long before it was documented and recognized as a proper language and officially acknowledged by different educational and governmental institutions. (Humphries, 2004)
Sign language has strongly supported deaf communities, uniting them, understanding each other, and communicating in best possible way. Linguistically, sign language is similar to any other language facilitating deaf people to convey their thoughts or feelings through movement of hands, combining different hand shapes, and using facial expressions. The reason for developing this language is to support deaf people as they have different cultures separate from hearing people culture.
For centuries, a general conception prevailed that it is not easy or possible to teach deaf people. Deaf children generally did not attend schools. However, evidence suggests that there were schools for deaf children in the 17th and 18th centuries but they did not meet all the requirements, and a dire need initiated to develop a modern language through which deaf people can easily communicate especially with other deaf persons forming a community in which everybody understand others. American Sign Language is considered as a fully functional language meeting all criteria of a true language. It includes basic rules of linguistics, grammar, and different other necessary requirements of a quality language. (Humphries, 2004)
Use of Hands and Facial Expressions in Deaf Language
Hands are mainly used in sign language to express views with plain colored clothes regarded as the best background to convey meaning. However, in sign language hand movement is not the sole way of expressing rather entire movements of body as well as face are involved. This is a highly visible language as many signs and movements in this language are quick, with some humor and imagination. It is pertinent to mention that deaf people in different countries have different sign languages with standards and rules established as per their own areas. However, American Sign Language is considered as one of the most acceptable, comprehensive, with complete grammatical terms and the easiest of all sign languages in the world. Sign languages are exclusively developed in deaf cultures. People speaking sign language includes friends, family members, teachers, interpreters, and other people mostly deaf, sharing same characteristics.
Despite the fact that a common sign language exists in the deaf community, at times specific sign systems are developed in families having deaf child and hearing parents. In this case, signs different to the universal sign language are developed within family being informal sign system. These sign languages, developed at homes, are known as home sign language. However, whether sign language is developed at home with special symbols or a universally acceptable sign language is learnt, this language is comparatively complex and difficult compared to other languages. Yet for deaf people, with no other way of communication available, sign language is an effective way of communicating especially with other deaf people. It is, in fact, the most creative way to convey feelings, confront limitations, and living comfortably with much each in a community. This is due to the fact that people in deaf culture communicates through sign language, uses visual patterns to express their thoughts, mostly with movements of hands supported by facial expressions making it a highly expressive way of communication.
Efforts have been made in the paper to describe deaf culture and deaf language. Deaf people mostly are regarded as individuals who cannot hear due to their lacking auditory capability. Deaf people are different from hearing people forming separate social groups, speak own language, and are a distinctive group or culture. The paper has also discussed deaf language as a mean of communication by deaf people. The modern way of communication is sign language with American Sign Language considered as a fully functional language meeting all criteria of a true language; however, there are also other sign languages in the world.
Humphries, T (2004) Learning American Sign Language: Levels I & II- Beginning & Intermediate, Allyn & Bacon
Ladd, P (2003) Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood, Multilingual Matters
Lane, H (1996) A Journey Into the Deaf-World, DawnSignPress
Padden, L (2003) Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood, Multilingual Matters
Padden, C (1990) Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, Harvard University Press
The History of Deaf Culture and Sign Language
by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries.
American Sign Language, or ASL, is one of the most widely used sign languages in the world. There are an estimated 200- to 300,000 signers of ASL in the United States and Canada and many more who have learned it as a second language. ASL is not universal, meaning that it is not understood by signers of other sign languages around the world. No one knows how many different sign languages there are; a recent survey of all documented human languages lists 130 sign languages, which include Brazilian Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language, Portuguese Sign Language, French Canadian Sign Language, among others.
Where spoken languages use the voice and movement of the mouth to communicate, signers use their hands and their face and bodies to convey precise meaning. One handshape is like one consonant; the English words bat, rat, cat all differ only with the first consonant. Likewise, the signs BLACK and SUMMER are almost identical except for a different handshape.
In Wonderstruck, Ben learns to fingerspell English words. Fingerspelling is not the same as signing, but it is a useful way to include English words. In the same way that speakers of English borrow Spanish or French words for names and places, signers use fingerspelling when they want to represent an English word such as someone’s name or to identify a place. Signers might say “my name is….” and then they fingerspell their name, letter by letter.
ASL traces its history to 1814 when the first school for deaf children was founded in Hartford, Connecticut. ASL was created partly from French Sign Language which is even older, having its origins in Paris sometime around 1790. This means that ASL is likely about 300 or more years old. But fingerspelling is even older. There are charts showing fingerspelled handshapes in books published as early as 1620. These books describe how Spanish monks used fingerspelling to teach their deaf students to read and write.
Every sign language exists in a community of signers with a long history. ASL’s history parallels that of schools for deaf children in the United States and Canada. Today deaf children attend different types of schools, not only special schools for deaf children but public schools as well, along with hearing children. Maybe you have seen deaf students in your school with a sign language interpreter? Today, ASL is taught in high schools, in colleges and universities. An ASL class may even be available in your school.
Deaf communities are made up of deaf people and ASL signers (who may be hearing) and they can sometimes be very large and active communities. In some places, the deaf community has a long history of social and cultural activity including clubs, sports, theater in sign, and services to support the needs of Deaf people. Indeed, there may be a whole other world of deaf people for you to discover in your own community. You can see deaf actors on television, on the web and especially on YouTube where deaf people post videos in ASL. You can find old stories reflecting the history of deaf people and their culture on DVDs or on the web. In many of the same places, you can find modern adaptations of ASL in the form of poetry, narratives, and creative use of signing. Like all human languages, ASL is alive and always changing to meet the needs of communicating in the modern world. Whether language is in speech or sign, human beings seem to have a powerful ability to find ways to communicate and to identify closely with their language. Think about how valuable your language is to you. This is how deaf people feel about ASL.Links:
Carol Padden is professor of Communication and Associate Dean in the Division of Social Sciences at University of California, San Diego. She has written numerous academic and popular articles about sign languages and deaf communities around the world, and about fingerspelling. She is also co-author of several textbooks on learning American Sign Language. She was recently named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in recognition of creativity and innovation in her research.
Tom Humphries is Associate Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is also Associate Professor in the Department of Communication. He is author with Carol Padden of two popular American Sign Language textbooks, A Basic Course in American Sign Language and Learning American Sign Language and two books on the culture of Deaf people, Deaf in America, and Inside Deaf Culture. His work has focused on designing new ways to train teachers of deaf children and to transform teaching practices used in the classroom.
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