Sign bilingualism: Language development, interaction, and maintenance in sign language contact situations

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In this chapter, we adopt a cross-disciplinary perspective on sign bilingualism and explore the dynamics of its development and maintenance in the light of the insights provided in the contributions to this volume and current assumptions in the field of contact linguistics. We offer a critical appraisal of the research-policy-practice axis that determines sign bilingualism in diverse social contexts and argue in favour of a realistic ecolinguistic model of language planning. Following an integrated view of sign bilingualism, we discuss the complex inter-relation of external ecological and internal psycholinguistic factors that determine language acquisition and use in bilingual signers. As the sophisticated interaction of two languages of different modality not only shows that sign bilinguals skilfully exploit their linguistic resources much like other bilinguals, but also that cross-modal language mixing represents an essential part of adult and child bilingual signers’ repertoires, we raise the question of whether the didactic conceptions that are put into practice in deaf education are doing justice to the dynamics of sign bilingualism. In our discussion of the dimensions of variation in sign bilingual education, we suggest that the diverse and often conflicting objectives in the education of deaf students relate to the system of values in a given society. We also draw attention to continuing shortcomings of the bilingual programmes implemented that strike us in their potential negative effects concerning the eventual outcomes. While emphasising the progress that has been made in the field, we conclude by drawing attention to those issues that deserve further examination in future follow-up studies.


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