What is Deaf culture? Among the great variety of definitions, there is one that should be mentioned within the given subject. It is written by the representatives of Deaf community and according to it, Deaf culture is a social force of Deaf people, used by them and created for them, based on American Sign Language. The phenomenon of this culture may be seen both from the inside, namely by Deaf people, and from the outside, from the point of view of hearing ones.
According to Theresa B. Smith, the core of Deaf culture consists of several elements, such as physiological deafness, use of the American Sign Language, identification with the Deaf community and adherence to the main cultural values. Let us deal with the main peculiarities of the Deaf culture and communication within it.
Undoubtedly, being deaf is a problem for people only when they face hearing community, as it is very important for them to be understood and accepted. Sometimes Deaf person may have problems even in his own family when he has hearing relatives. Still, even those who were born in Deaf families suffer from misunderstanding, because eventually they face such a problem as well. Usually, when Deaf deal with people who do not know the ASL, they are to resort to lip-reading, writing, gesturing and using interpreters. All these activities are tiresome and problematic as there are not many lip-readers or well-trained sign interpreters and writing in English is difficult for the majority of the Deaf community.
The American Sign Language is constructed in such a way that it leaves little room for misunderstanding. With the help of signs, Deaf people may express their thoughts briefly and precisely the conciseness of the information makes it important and valuable. One cannot but agree that hearing people even do not notice how much redundant information they deal with every day. All the information Deaf people accept is transformed in conversation, movie, poem, novel, which in their turn form the Deaf culture.
Five main elements of Deaf culture demonstrate Deaf people’s attitude to the information and language in general. These components are “straight talk”, direct personal comments, keeping others informed, sharing personal information and access to visual communication. Precisely these elements represent the main differences between Deaf and mainstream American culture.
Speaking about the relations among the Deaf people, it needs to be mentioned that they refer to friends and classmates as the members of their families. This order of things takes place due to the fact that members of Deaf community have much in common: common problems, worldviews, thoughts and even language. They consider themselves a part of a separate community, which may easily be equated to family. It is very easy for two Deaf people to find a way to understanding and two Deaf people with different sign languages and social background may find a common language much quicker than two hearing people who speak different languages.
The relations between Deaf people have collectivist nature, which is characterized by loyalty to the group, reciprocity, group decision making and importance of being together.
Such aspect of communication as introduction also plays a very important role for Deaf people. They pay much attention to it and it differs from the hearing people’s introduction greatly. While Deaf people try to find out some information about other people’s social background, school experience and friends, hearing ones want to know more about new acquaintance’s personal identity. Besides, the way of introduction depends on who is introduced: either two Deaf people are introduced one to another, or one Deaf person acquaints two other people, or a person with a hearing loss is introduced to a hearing one, etc.
Attitude to the ASL
Apart from the attitude to the information and other people, there is an attitude to the language, which is an essential part of any culture. The majority of the Deaf community members feel that their lives would be empty without ASL. This sign language if loved by Deaf people though it is considered to be endangered one.
Still the ASL lives in the heart and minds of its speakers and it is very interesting “to listen” to the Deaf people stories about their first ASL experience and every Deaf person remember this time as a time when he was born, when he discovered his identity, when the small letter in the word “Deaf” became capital one.
The ASL is very rich and suitable for expressive storytelling, and that is why Deaf culture is represented by rich folklore. Among the most popular jokes are tales, jokes and games. Of course, all of them are passed down by performance, as ASL is not a written language.
American Deaf culture is a unique culture with its own peculiarities and characteristic features. It may be described both from the outside and from the inside. Naturally, the view from the inside is more vivid and colorful as hearing people from the outside are not able to understand Deaf culture fully as it is. The way Deaf people think, behave and speak using the sign language characterizes them and their unique and deep worldview.