As a cultural group, Deaf Americans present a thriving and distinct example of language in action. Many of the traditions of Deaf culture—including storytelling, word games, etc.—are celebrations of American Sign Language (ASL). But contemporary Deaf Americans face myriad issues, including the preservation of sign language as it relates to the child’s upbringing and education in particular. Because a child with a profound hearing loss is not able to access the language that pervades their environment, it is crucial that these children are given ASL as soon as possible. Using the framework of social neuroscience, it is possible to consider the consequences of a linguistic delay due to the absence of ASL in the child’s environment.
The mind of an infant and toddler is a sponge to language. Whether or not the child is able to speak, their brain is rehearsing and affirming the linguistic structures they hear, and the period of baby talk—called “babbling”—is a crucial time of experimentation with sound. During this time, the child will babble while in social situations in order to see which phonological structures receive positive responses from their parents—i.e. which combinations of sounds elicit responses. If a child cannot hear the sounds that their language offers, the child does not have the opportunity to babble. A child with significant hearing loss will still make sounds in infancy, but will quickly cease due to the lack of response and the fact that they cannot hear the sounds they are making and so cannot affirm them for themselves.
Babbling is just one step in the complex, lifelong process of language acquisition. Though one continues to advance in the fluency o...
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...the individual and societal ramifications of this statistic.
The repression of Deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens does no benefit to anyone. The whole of the species is belittled when 70 million people are denied access to language, to education, to equal opportunities. What kinds of progress in all disciplines, in all arenas of life, are sacrificed when a human mind is wasted to this degree? Promoting awareness of Deaf culture and ASL as necessary and beautiful elements of a thriving global community is just one way to bring Deaf issues to the fore of the hearing world, but any step in the right direction is crucial in advocating voices that have too often been silenced.
Baker, Colin. “Sign Language and the Deaf Community.” Disciplinary, Methodological, and Topical Approaches: p. 153-171.
The World Federation of the Deaf. http://wfdeaf.org/
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