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Old 21.04.2015, 16:24
Caryl Caryl is offline
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Re: Swiss German & Swiss French Sign Language

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I don't understand why there are so many different forms of sign language. So few people in the world sign, that you think it would be sensible to just use one common language.
That much I can answer. I'm in the middle of a book ("Deaf and Hearing Siblings in Conversation"). It started with the Milan Conference of 1880 (Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf) whose outrageous conclusions (deaf children should be raised without access to sign, forced to lip-read and streamed in regular schools with hearing pupils) were not repudiated until 2010!

Yes there is Gallaudet University (which has had its own politics, latterly about whether the chancellor could be a learner of ASL as a second language rather than a profoundly deaf, or at least child of deaf ASL signers). But the fact is that -- comparing it with native speakers of Swiss German (my ancestors): if you didn't learn it as a child, you would need to have extraordinary aptitude to learn it as an adult and pass for a native speaker.

As well as national and regional languages there are dialects of sign language within countries.

Most of the world outside Europe, I think, was taught sign language by American missionaries. As Gallaudet learned it in France (he was excluded when he tried to do his research in England), ASL was based on the French model.

Deaf people who do not learn ASL or another sign language as infants may never become fluent in any language. This reminds me of some immigrants to the Midwestern USA from Eastern Europe who came to work in factories, never met people from their own country, and never learned much English beyond what they needed for their employment. They became functionally illiterate and non-vocal.

Things have changed: deaf people are in the modern developed world, once a country's educators acknowledge that Milan was a terrible injustice, allowed to form their own social network. They may be or become (as the book I'm reading says) estranged for their family if siblings and parents don't sign.

One of the groups (a family in this case) that Grayson Perry (the English potter) included in his exhibit, which I saw, at the National Portrait Gallery in London "Who Are You" and in the TV series based on it, was a deaf family. What was striking was (and I've seen this elsewhere) that the two parents wished for their child to be profoundly deaf too, and would refuse the child a cochlear implant.

Bear in mind that ASL or BSL or Swiss German or any of the others (Canadian French, Canadian English) are languages in their own right. It is easier for a deaf child fluent in ASL to learn written, and perhaps spoken English ("cued English" and other hybrid versions of gestured grammatical English using spoken syntax). Just as a child (in theory) who speaks some indigenous language has an advantage in learning a world language over a child raised by Remus and Romulus and speaking none at all.

But then there are always people with aptitude: The radio personality Barry Farber is said, on his Wikipedia page, to be fluent in 25 and he wrote a book saying anybody could do it (a lie, I think, but there you are: http://www.language-learning-advisor...ry-farber.html ) I remember that years ago, and perhaps today still, the U.S. Army would give every recruit the MLAT (modern language aptitude test) and send any drafted farm boy with aptitude to Chinese or Russian or Arabic language school and then second him to the NSA.

Sorry for the rant and digression. To answer your comment: it's not surprising at all. Sign language, like any, is local. And it is radio and TV and film that gave us uniform languages within countries. I think.

The worst thing is what your comment implies, and what Milan 1880 tried to do: hearing people dictate to deaf people how they should live. And communicate. And Milan was 30 years after Gallaudet died, what a pity.
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