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
Mar 22 2017by Alexa Marzina
College Students Share The Importance of ASL and Deaf Culture in Today's Hearing WorldBy Alexa Marzina - Mar 22 2017
A lot of colleges stress the importance of learning a foreign language, and for good reason; knowing more than one language not only gives you an extra skill to put on your résumé, but allows you to be able to communicate with multiple varieties of people. One language that is often overlooked, however, is American Sign Language. With the rise of the acceptance of deafness and Deaf culture in the United States, ASL’s popularity is ever growing.
As a note, the word “deaf” refers to people who have lost some or all of their hearing. And “Deaf” refers to those involved in the Deaf culture and values. You can be deaf without being Deaf and vice versa. That being said, here are some thoughts that college students have about learning — and the importance of — ASL.
Lauren Davis, University of Pittsburgh, Junior, Applied Developmental Psychology
“Hearing people should learn ASL first and foremost because it is a BEAUTIFUL language. Being able to express yourself visually opens up so many opportunities for deeper meaning and emotional expression in your statements. Every sentence looks like art. It also opens up the opportunity to be introduced to Deaf culture, which is such a beautiful culture with a rich history and vibrant present. As an added bonus, knowing ASL means you can have conversations in crowded, noisy rooms and be able to "hear" the whole thing! And, no one cares if you talk with your mouth full.”
A big problem in the Deaf community is being excluded from the hearing world simply because of a communication issue. Deaf people are not disabled or damaged and they most certainly do not to be “cured,” unless they personally choose to be. For that reason, if more people (both hearing and deaf) would learn ASL, even at a simple level, language and communication would be so much more accessible to Deaf people!
Tia Billig, Keuka College, Sophomore, American Sign Language-English Interpreting
“I am taught by deaf professors and at the end of every email my professor concludes with the quote, ‘The problem is not that the deaf students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen.’ As a hearing culture we cannot be ignorant to those that simply only differ from us in the minute fact that they do not perceive sound. We are not ignorant to those who learn differently…eat differently…sleep differently. Therefore, we need not be ignorant to those who communicate differently than we do. I chose to learn ASL because I don’t believe that anybody should ever feel uncomfortable or that they do not belong in this world. I don’t ever want a deaf person to feel like they are incapable of ordering a meal, paying for gas or having a simple, daily conversation with anybody in their own language! I think it’s important…to make ASL just as accessible [as spoken languages].”
Deaf culture is — perhaps surprisingly — not exclusive to Deaf people; hearing people that know ASL and interact with Deaf people are welcome in the community! This also applies to hearing children of deaf adults (CODA) who sign with their parents; these children are considered Deaf as well. With the stigma that deafness is a disability, ASL is seen as a lesser language to most: not worthy of learning because it is not spoken. But that is simply not the case: visual language is very effective in communicating ideas and emotions.
Elizabeth Pindilli, University of Pittsburgh, Senior, History and Political Science
“ASL is a deeply beautiful language, it is so much more expressive than spoken English. Learning ASL is such a wonderful way to immerse yourself in a different culture. Deaf people have a close-knit and fascinating culture and by learning the language you can become a part of it. Learning ASL was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in college.”
It honestly does mean a lot to Deaf people when hearing people know ASL since they are able to communicate with ease. To make life easier (and more accessible) for Deaf people we don’t need to make them hear, hearing people simply need to listen. This is not at all different from other language barriers; learning other languages bridges the gap between cultures.
Paige Marecic, Pennsylvania State University, Sophomore, Bio-Behavioral Health
“I feel like I’d be helpful to the Deaf community if I learned ASL for my job that works with the public — I think it would come as a pleasant surprise for them to be able to sign what they want [to order] rather than have to write it down and risk that I don’t understand the order [or embarrass them] and need to ask further questions, making them feel even more isolated from the hearing world.”
Natalie Butko, Ohio University, Sophomore, Strategic Communication
“I took ASL so I can communicate with [different kinds of] people. I believe more people should learn ASL in an effort to bridge the gap that exists between Deaf culture and the hearing world.”
Deaf culture isn’t as foreign as a lot of people may think. Deaf people are all around us if you just take the time to look. They are like any other person; they are just deaf! It’s not like suddenly you will also become deaf if you communicate with a Deaf person. In fact, you’ll probably learn a lot about the culture in the process!
Kirstein Sharrow, University of Pittsburgh, Sophomore, Applied Developmental Psychology
“I’ve always been fascinated by ASL. One of my good friends from high school is hearing but has parents who are both Deaf. We grew up together, playing soccer, performing in choirs, concert band and musicals together. I often watched her sign with her parents and found the language to be absolutely captivating; it is a truly beautiful language. I’d ask her to teach me phrases… [which] led to my interest in ASL in college. Since learning ASL, my appreciation and understanding of the culture have deepened. I continue to become increasingly appreciative of such a beautiful language, culture and community.”
Deafness is not a disease. An illness. A deformity. Being deaf is something that Deaf people can all bond over and their culture is so rich because of this similarity. If you want to learn more about Deaf culture, you can visit StartASL or Deaf Linx. Alternatively, if you want to see how the world will be if Deaf culture is extinguished, you can watch “The End,” which is a wonderful view into the uncertain future for the Deaf community. By learning ASL and about Deaf culture, you are helping to ensure that d/Deaf people are respected and not wiped out from our society.
Lead Image Credit: Ashley Clark Fry via Youtube