Sign Languages essay

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American Sign Language on its part is a complete and complex language that makes use of signs made with hands and other body movements. It’s the first language for many people living in North America, and one of the options of communication available to the deaf. It is the forth most widely used language in the US. As already mentioned, American Sign Language has strong links to the French Sign Language. Sign Language was introduced to the US in 1817 by a French teacher, Laurent Clerc who was brought to the US by Thomas Gallaudet, and founded the first school for the deaf in Connecticut. The American Sign Language has a great deal of regional and subcultural dialects and also accents, the notable one being the Black American Sign Language, whereas others vary into dialects. There are regional accents in sign language just as there are in speech. Many Americans from the South sign in a slow manner when compared to those from the north; in fact those from southern and northern Indiana have very different styles. Along with these accents, the American Sign Language has many regional variations. For instance, the word BIRTHDAY has more than six signs in the American Sign Language. When you look at the Black American Sign Language, it developed mostly in the segregated schools in the south. Just like the African American vernacular English is different from the Standard English; it also differs from the American Sign Language in vocabulary and the grammatical structure. This does not mean that the Black American Sign Language is grammatically incorrect; it is just but a dialect of the American Sign Language, a language that is complete, has its own grammar, syntax, and vocabulary rules (ASL 2010).

The British Sign Language is also not a single standard universal language as many people think. Studies show that there may be as many as 30 dialects of the BSL being used in the UK. They also relate very much to the regional accents. Just as it is possible to tell which part one comes from by listening ti his or her dialect, it is also possible to identify which part of UK one comes by the way he or she uses the BSL. It is said that the many regional dialects originated from the schools of the deaf that were established in the 19th and 20th century. During this time there was no standard form of the BSL in use and therefore signs developed depending on the particular school that taught it. Just like the US and the UK, Brazil also has many sign languages with different dialects that developed in more or less similar ways. These include; the BSL that has two dialects, the Brazilian Cities Sign Language and the Sao Paulo Sign Language; the Urubu Sign Language; and it is reported that the isolated Brazilian Indian tribes have there own sign language. The Brazilian constitution provides that every individual should have an education including those with disability. This has ensured that deaf children attend special schools for the deaf. The law also recognizes the BSL as the official language for the deaf community. The major challenge to the education of the deaf in Brazil has been the availability of qualified bilingual teachers to teach both Brazilian Sign Language and Portuguese which is the national language. There is also the problem that arises from the fact that many of the deaf children have non-deaf parents. This creates a communication Barrier that affects badly their relationship. This is not just a problem to Brazil alone, but to all deaf communities in the world (Ferreira n.d).

There is also the Australian Sign Language commonly known as Auslan. It is mostly used by the Deaf people and signers in Australia. It is said that Auslan came from the BSL and to some extent from the Irish Sign Language. It evolved and developed from these two languages in the 19th century mostly in residential schools for the deaf and also in the Australian deaf communities. It was formally recognized by the federal government as a natural language in 1987, this led to the first Auslan dictionary to be published in 1989. At present, Auslan has some of its words borrowed from the ASL. To make sure that deaf children have an education, the Australian government has made sure that Auslan courses are provided in secondary and post secondary schools. There are also continuing education programs together with private classes. Apart from Auslan, there are also other sign languages in particular, the Aboriginal sign languages like the Walpiri Sign Language. It is said the indigenous sign languages have been for many years even before Auslan came into being (Auslan 2008).           

Chinese Sign Language is said to be the most recent addition in the Chinese history. The language has been standardized over a period of years. Research shows that Chinese Sign Language has about seven linguistic families that are distinct from each other. It is written that sign language was introduced to China by C.R. Mills, an American missionary who established the first school for the deaf in 1887, but it only taught ASL and as such it did not have much influence on the Chinese Sign Language. Chinese Sign Language started its development in the 1950s. it has many variations as it has already been shown. The most prominent dialect is the one used in Shanghai, other dialects include: the Hong Kong Sign Language, Tibetan Sign Language, and the Taiwanese Sign Language that has two dialects. The Shanghai dialect is also used in Taiwan and in Malaysia. The Chinese has encouraged awareness about deaf education and care. It is reported that there are about 21 million persons with hearing loss in China. Because of this large number, the government has put up a bilingual-bicultural school for the deaf and also a university in China’s third largest city, Tianjin. The only problem has been that for the last half a century, Chinese Sign Language has been discouraged to the extent of being banned from classrooms; instead, the oral only policy was being encouraged. Many Chinese children find it hard learning to speak because Chinese is mostly a tonal language and therefore they can’t see the changes in tones that are used to change meanings of words. Most of them therefore end up leaving school three grades lower than their peers and therefore are presented with few job opportunities in the society. In recent years, efforts have been made to correct this; many technical schools have come with the help of UNICEF and the federal government. Despite the effort towards education awareness, awareness towards deaf culture is still wanting. Many Chinese people view Deafness as a disability; in fact the deaf themselves have been made to believe that they are disabled. Parents spent a lot of money on a variety of medicine to cure it. They see that sign language will only prevent their kids from speaking, and therefore to them, signing is a very bad influence. Children in the Chinese community are forbidden by their parents to associate with others in the deaf community. This has made many deaf people to look down upon other deaf people to the extent where deaf students prefer hearing teachers to deaf teachers because of the stigma in the society (CSL 2010).


Just like the deaf in China, deaf people in other regions of the world also face many challenges. For instance, not all states in the US recognize ASL a national language. There are challenges to access to education and therefore employment opportunity to the deaf is slim. People who use sign language have for many years been viewed as lesser people in the society. The hearing community has dedicated itself to changing the deaf and their language. In the middle ages, the deaf were viewed as being possessed by demons, some biblical verses labeled them as mute and dumb. The deaf were hidden by their family members, some were locked in asylums, and others were forced to speak. During World War II, Adolf Hitler’s men experimented with the deaf by castrating them; religious leaders accused the deaf of lacking faith when their miraculous healing failed. People who sign are on many occasions mocked. This has lead to many efforts done towards this, and although the deaf are no longer viewed in this way, they still face many challenges from the hearing world. Many laws have been put in place to protect the rights of people with disability. For instance, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), has helped not just the deaf, but all Americans. The deaf are now leaving normal lives at least in the developed countries, they are given education with up to date facilities, but those in the developing world still have many challenges. They lack qualified teachers, have very few special facilities, and therefore many of them end up forgotten, left to the mercies of the hearing world (Penilla & Taylor 2010).

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