....different languages mold different cultures.....
Many Aspects To Deafness
People who are born hearing and become deaf late in life, are
"physically deaf", but "culturally hearing".
They grew up speaking a spoken language, using the telephone,
the TV, the radio. They think, speak, read, write and base their
opinions on the world they knew before they became deaf. They
rarely learn a signed language.
People who are born into the Deaf Community, and whose first
native language is a signed language, not a spoken one, are "culturally
Deaf". Most of them are physically deaf as well. Some of
them are born-deaf or became deaf at a very young age. Some of
them are hearing people born into all-deaf families, and even
though they can hear, even though they speak a spoken language,
their first language was a signed language, not a spoken language.
They base their view of the world from the Deaf perspective.
They are "physically hearing" but "culturally-deaf".
Hearing people have a hard time imagining what it would feel
like to be born physically deaf. Try to imagine never hearing
a sound from the moment of your birth! For a hearing adult, it
is impossible to know how that feels.
But it is even harder for hearing people to imagine "cultural
deafness".Why? Of course there are many reasons. For example,
it is hard for hearing people to think of signed languages as
real languages. Yet they have been proven by research to be as
rich and as sophisticated as spoken languages.
Usually hearing people are afraid of becoming blind. But to them,
deafness doesn't seem nearly as bad. They forget that hearing
is connected with the development of speech.
Born-deaf children, or children who become deaf very young, before
the age of three, must learn a spoken language they have never
heard and never will. Hearing aids do not work for all Deaf people.
And even when hearing aids do work, they work with minimal success
for the profoundly deaf. Sounds are muffled. It is very hard
to distinguish between voices and other sounds. Oftentimes a
Deaf person can only hear bells or telephones with a hearing
aid, but cannot hear voices distinctly.
Deafness in Deaf families is often genetically based. There are
several genes that produce deafness. In Deaf families, most often,
everyone uses a signed language. They are "native signers",
since it is their first language. Later they learn spoken language
as their second language.
Language defines culture. Yes...of course Americans who are born-deaf
are Americans, but they also belong to a sub-culture...the Deaf
Culture. The United States is made up of many sub-cultures or
communities, such as the Irish American Community, the Afro-American
Community and the Deaf Community. There are, in other words,
cultural differences between Deaf and hearing people. The "D"
in "Deaf" is capitalized because it is referring to
a group of people who use a different language.
When a Deaf person is born into a Deaf family, they communicate
in the same language of their parents. Their language development,
using sign language from the moment of birth, is as normal as
any hearing child's language development in spoken language.
Everyone in the family uses the same language and the child starts
speaking or signing at the expected age. They began absorbing
language as babies.
Deaf children born to hearing parents are not always so lucky.
Of course there are exceptional stories of hearing parents who
do an outstanding job giving their deaf child every chance for
the right education. But more often than not, a deaf child is
at a disadvantage in a hearing family.They are born different
than their parents. Often the hearing parents do not realize
the child is deaf until age three, when they realize the child
does not speak. The first three years are the crucial years for
language development, so under those circumstances the child
is deprived of "normal language development". Every
member of the family is frustrated. Communication is often poor
Few hearing parents learn sign language. Few born-deaf people
can read lips well, since only 30 per cent of sounds can be seen
on the lips. That means 70 percent of the sounds are guessed
at... when lip reading. Try lip reading a language you have never
heard, and you will find the frustration level is enormous! Remember...born-deaf
people have not heard English or spoken language and never will.
So they memorize the lip reading of certain common phrases, and
then they are just polite and don't complain when they cannot
understand other sentences. They are skilled at reading body
language and guessing in context. But they miss a lot, and they
often feel "left out" and isolated.
That is why signed languages are so necessary and so wonderful.
A Deaf person who signs, amongst other people who sign, is not
handicapped. If every hearing person could sign, deafness would
not be classified as a "disability". Deaf people are
just as intelligent and as capable as any hearing person. They
simply use another language to receive full information.
Spoken Language Literacy
For born-deaf people to function in a
hearing world, they must learn to read and write spoken language
- a language they have never heard. Reading a spoken language
is not based on sight alone - it is based on sounds. When hearing
people learn to read, they "sound-out" the letters
in each word. Profoundly-deaf people cannot "sound-out"
words. They must learn to read from rote-memory, without sound
connection. That is not easy! Many born-deaf people are brilliant,
and have several college degrees. Some Deaf people read and write
several spoken languages. But others do not always read spoken
We have all heard that there are illiterate people in the United
States. Most of these people have normal hearing and normal learning
abilities. Yet as adults, they must learn to read and write.
It is no surprise that some Deaf adults, with all of their added
hardships, also have trouble learning to read and write.
It is said that born-deaf people often read and write spoken
language at around a fifth-grade reading level. That is not surprising,
since the spoken language is their second language, not their
first. This is also true for hearing people who learn a second
language as adults. They tend to read and write that second language,
even though they speak it fluently, at around the fifth grade
reading level. So the issue is not deafness. It has to do with
reading and writing your second language.
Signed Language Literacy
Signed languages are as old as history.
They are not new languages recently invented. Like spoken languages,
they developed naturally. Deaf people needed to communicate with
those around them. Certain gestures became commonly understood,
and in time, as with spoken languages, a rich vocabulary and
grammar structure developed. Like spoken languages, signed languages
are living languages. They change as the people who use them
There is not just one international signed language in the world.
There is a different signed language in every country. Some countries
have several signed languages. Some signed languages have several
"dialects". Why? The best answer to that question,
is with another question. "Why isn't there an international
People did try to invent an international
spoken language, called Esperanto. But few speak Esperanto. The
naturally evolved spoken languages are used, but not the invented
ones. Signed languages are no different. People tried to invent
an international signed language, called Gestuno. But even though
the attempt was admirable, no one really signs Gestuno. The naturally
evolved signed languages "won".
American Sign Language (ASL) is used
in the USA and in English-speaking Canada. There are many dialects
of ASL. Because of Gallaudet University in Washington D.C, and
other fine schools for the Deaf, most ASL dialects are understood
by Deaf people all over the country. ASL is remarkably standardized,
considering the size of the USA and Canada, and considering that
up until now, there was no written form for the language. It
is possible that SignWriting will help to preserve ASL, and will
contribute to its standardization.
The signs listed in the SignWriting dictionary
help signers learn to "spell" or write ASL signs. As
with all dictionaries, individual words or signs do not teach
grammar. Learning to write proper ASL sentences in SignWriting
takes time and practice. Even native ASL signers, who grew up
with sign language, must learn how to put their grammar on paper.
Why write signed languages? There are numerous reasons. For example,
a written form preserves signed languages for future generations.
Writing signs helps hearing people learn signs. And now that
the SignWriting Literacy Project is donating books to schools,
the teachers tell us that the highly pictorial nature of SignWriting
makes it ideal for teaching Deaf people to improve reading and
Please feel free to write if you have questions.
Committee for SignWriting
Center For Sutton Movement
educational nonprofit organization
P.O. Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA
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