Towards language planning for sign languages

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Sign languages are well researched autochthonous, bio-culturally diverse, visio-­spatial languages, both linguistically and neurologically. They confer identity and form new minorities within complex social systems. The continuity of their ethnolinguistic heritages are endangered as replacement levels fall due to the fact that sign languages are not traditionally considered to be mother tongue languages, since most deaf children are born to hearing parents who do not sign, although theoretically they are. A longstanding international discourse since 1880 when sign language was banned in education was due to the supposed effect sign languages have on spoken language acquisition for deaf children. This ethos continues to modern day, with few parents of deaf children being informed about sign language or offered instruction, or it being used as a teaching medium for their child. This signifies the linguistic imperialism that stems from ignorance of modern research, and surdism (in which deaf people are normalised to be as hearing as possible). All the countries which have implemented sign language legislation fall short of revitalisation since there is no promotion to all parents of deaf children. This study demonstrates that the resulting extremely low number of new learners means British Sign Language (BSL) can be categorised as a severely endangered language. This paper applies spoken language planning theory and methodology to British Sign Language, taking into account the discrete political environments in the UK and history of spoken language revival. It is a rationale view of BSL, and other sign languages, as requiring immediate intervention, against the backdrop of English (and spoken language generally) being the language of oppression.


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