Friday, July 19, 2013

Sociolinguistic Journals Part 3

Language Planning & Deaf in America

In Deaf education around the country, language planning is creating a dichotomy between two schools of thought. First, there is "oral" education, that prioritizes English for all their students. Aiming to provide independent access to the American world, they train their students in speech, reading, English (generically) and sometimes even lipreading. The other approach is more accepted by the culturally Deaf ('Deaf and proud of it'). This is education in full ASL for any and all students in their school. This provides the students with full access to language from the start. Both approaches are examples of language planning; both channel all students into the same 'language corral'.

I want to suggest a scenario in which language planning is entirely absent, but the students are still given access to their environment's languaculture (a new term referring to both language and culture, as they are tied together). In (select) public schools today, when a student turns up with anything outside of normal- anything that can't be handled in a cookie cutter classroom setting- they are referred to the Special Education department. Now, this may create a stigma, a negative one, for nobody likes being labeled as special ed. But this is where the magic happens. Specialists of many fields within this department will meet and discuss the individual student's situation and needs. Conferences take place with the student or parent (if the student is not a legal adult) and as many professionals as possible. At this meeting, an agreement is is found, a plan made. A student may be provided with hearing aids and a mic/speaker system in the classroom. Or a full ASL interpreter. Or maybe both, depending on what the student needs. They can get private tutoring in whatever language is preferred, and can even specify their preferred sign system for the interpreter to use. Surely, individual needs are better met without language planning

Gender Stereotypes in Language

Historically, all (as far as I know) cultures of the world assign dominance to one gender or another; most assign it to males. This turns up in language, a reflection of the culture in which the language developed. I decided to look into ASL, to see what kinds of gender marking shows up. Starting with the following sign pairs, what is noticed? MAN/WOMAN HUSBAND/WIFE BOY/GIRL GRANDPA/GRANDMA SON/DAUGHTER BROTHER/SISTER

Each of these sign pairs is identical except for the gender marker. The gender marker for female is sign initial, on the side of the chin. For male, it is on the side of the forehead. 'Sign initial' means that these signs start in those places, and continue with the sign appropriate for that pair. It is interesting to me that the gender marker for male is higher relative to the gender marker for female. This suggests male dominance. However, gender neutral signs, like PEOPLE CHILDEN NATION etc do not bear any gender marking and are truly neutral. There is never an appropriate situation in which a gender marked sign would be understood as neutral (as is with "mankind" in English).

I hypothesize that the distinction between neutral signs and gender marked signs is because of the state of the culture ASL developed in. ASL developed in a culture that supported diversity, success of the underdog, and equality. Although male dominance is hard to erase completely (placement of the gender marker), the playing field was much more level when ASL came into being.

No comments:

Post a Comment