A Resilient Deaf Community Adamant to Prevent the Extinction of Sign Language

The sign-language subculture is centuries old, with millions of deaf people across the world using it in daily communication. It is a language of gestures and expressions, and there is no common Lingua Franca throughout the world.  Deaf communities in different regions of the world have their unique set of signs and gestures, and many of them are recognized officially.

The protection of sanctity

The ASL or the American Sign Language refers to a unique set of gestures prevalent and put to practice by community members in America. The deaf are highly protective of the sanctity of their language, often to the extent of prejudice. Instead of coping with a hearing world, many members of the deaf societies require hearing people to learn the sign language in order to communicate.

The idea of a ‘cure’ is absurd

Efforts to ‘cure’ the deaf have literally fallen onto deaf ears, as community members are adamant to keep communicating in a privileged language, based on lip reading, and hand, eye, and body movements. Although hearing aids for the purpose are available, the use of them has been popular only to the extent of adjusting with the ‘hearing’ world. Even the deaf who undergo cochlear implants to hear are fluent and prefer to communicate with signing rather than speaking.

Extinct sign languages

In spite of the resilience, some versions of the sign language system are extinct. In language terms, a vernacular becomes extinct only when there are no native speakers in it. Essentially, the sub-culture of deafness has numerous variations, some of them localized into a close area. Geographical classification is always a determinant in categorizing sign languagages globally, but certain sub-niches of the signing vernacular are extinct.

  • Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language: Martha’s Vineyard is a place in Massachussetts where hereditary deafness was common. As a result, local inhabitants developed their own version of sign language, called the MVSL or the Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language. Also known as the Chillmark Sign Language, it was widely prevalent in the region during the 17th to 19th centuries. However, during 1820 many local residents enrolled at the American School of Deaf at Hartford, Connecticut. Eventually, the ASL became the language of choice. The last native signer of MVSL, Katie West, died in 1952.
  • The Maritime Sign Language: This system of signing was a rural language among the deaf community at Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Prince Edward Island (Canada), and New Brunswick. This form of signing is also effectively extinct. However, the ASL dialect in this region continues to bear lexicons of the old Maritime Sign Language.

Signing is a rich and entirely different silent world altogether. It is definitive and determined to continue its legacy instead of ‘curing’ into the world of hearing. The deaf do not consider themselves as disabled per se, and have been winning the fight for recognition slowly but steadily.

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