The power of language policy : the legal recognition of sign languages and the aspirations of deaf communities
Published inJyväskylä studies in humanities
This thesis explores Sign Language Peoples’ aspirations for the legal recognition of sign languages, with specific focus on Finland and Scotland. It highlights the timely need to strengthen (in practice) and scrutinize (academically) the legal measures that have been achieved as well as their implementation – and to measure all this against the challenges of endangerment and sustaining vitality. The theoretical framework for this study is centred in language policy and planning and political theory. The research methodology draws on principles of the ethnography of language policy and uses two traditional qualitative research methods, that is, interviews and participant observation, plus desk research. Sign Language Peoples’ campaigns for recognition seek a differentiated citizenship – a form of group representation rights which can accommodate their communities’ particular needs and practices. The study identifies five categories of recognition legislation and demonstrates that most legislation remains symbolic: while some legislation grants instrumental rights to sign languages, legislation establishing or protecting educational linguistic and language acquisition rights remains scarce. This is especially problematic given the complex combination of demographic, political, economic, social and educational pressures facing Sign Language Peoples’ communities. The study further identifies both common ground with other linguistic and cultural minorities and one significant difference – that Sign Language Peoples are also perceived and administered as people with disabilities and, as such, manifest dual category membership. While this should not in theory be problematic, in fact the policies which govern their lives traditionally frame them within only one category – as people with disabilities. The study demonstrates how this has negatively impacted the recognition of sign languages and signing communities. It goes on to analyse the highly politicized nature of sign language planning, especially in relation to discourses around the linguistic rights of deaf children. It also critically evaluates the mixed rationales for sign language rights and the justifications on which these rights are based. The evidence suggests that sign language legislation and the arguments for sign language rights are subject to a very particular set of discourses, which expose them to a degree of scrutiny not experienced by discourses for spoken minority language rights and legislation. Comparison of these discourses leads the author of this thesis to argue that it is essential that the protection and promotion of sign languages should include recognition of the multilingual practices of signing communities, and of their group rights. To conclude, it is argued that recognition legislation should specifically address the issue of vitality and the factors and strategies needed to ensure this vitality, including ways in which sign languages can create new generations of users without relying solely on intergenerational transmission. ...
PublisherUniversity of Jyväskylä
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