Sign Language Studies

Sign Language Studies
Volume 6, Number 2, Winter 2006

CONTENTS

SLS Formum: W(h)ither the deaf community?

    Johnston, Trevor.
  • W(h)ither the Deaf Community? Population, Genetics, and the Future of Australian Sign Language
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    Subject Headings:
    • Deaf -- Australia.
    • Australian Sign Language.
    Abstract:
      According to enrollments in schools for the deaf and data from the national census and neonatal hearing screening programs, the incidence of severe and profound childhood deafness in Australia is, and has been, less than commonly assumed. Factors implicated include improved medical care, mainstreaming, cochlear implants, and genetic science. Data for the United States, Britain, and other developed countries seem consistent with those for Australia. Declining prevalence and incidence rates have immediate implications for sign- based education, teacher-of-the-deaf training programs, and educational interpreting. There are also serious consequences for research, documentation, and teaching regarding Australian Sign Language (Auslan), and for the future viability of Auslan. Prompt action is essential if a credible corpus of Auslan is to be collected as the basis for a valid and verifiable description of one of the few native sign languages in the world with significant attested historical depth.

Comments on "W(h)ither the deaf community?"

    Burke, Teresa Blankmeyer.
  • Comments on "W(h)ither the Deaf Community?"
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    Subject Headings:
    • Johnston, Trevor. W(h)ither the deaf community? population, genetics, and the future of Australian Sign Language.
    • Deaf -- Australia.
    • Australian Sign Language.
    Abstract:
      Johnston argues that the impact of science and technology on the Australian Deaf community threatens the viability of the community; this entails that the scientists have a moral duty to record and preserve Auslan for posterity. This response analyzes Johnston's moral imperative through the application of intrinsic and extrinsic values, suggesting that an extrinsic argument may be more persuasive. Technology aims to alleviate human suffering; in this case, it also contributes to human suffering by failing to assess the assumptions resulting from conflating human suffering with "deafness as disability." Adopting a social model of disability changes the locus of human suffering; consequently, other uses of technology, such as genetic selection for Deafness, may be justifiable.
    Carty, Breda.
  • Comments on "W(h)ither the Deaf Community?"
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    Subject Headings:
    • Johnston, Trevor. W(h)ither the deaf community? population, genetics, and the future of Australian Sign Language.
    • Deaf -- Australia.
    • Australian Sign Language.
    Abstract:
      This article discusses Johnston's estimate of the number of signing Deaf people in Australia and queries whether it adequately accounts for nonnative signers or reflects the numbers who make use of services in Auslan. It concurs with Johnston's projection of a decline in the size of this population, and discusses the ways in which the Deaf community and allied professionals might respond to this scenario.
    Hyde, Merv.
    Power, Desmond J. (Desmond John), 1936-
    Lloyd, Karen.
  • Comments on "W(h)ither the Deaf Community?"
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    Subject Headings:
    • Johnston, Trevor. W(h)ither the deaf community? population, genetics, and the future of Australian Sign Language.
    • Deaf -- Australia.
    • Australian Sign Language.
    Abstract:
      From the evidence Johnston has presented, it is clear that the number of children being born deaf in Australia has fallen off and that this decline is likely to continue as a result of the technological and social factors he outlines. It also seems that this reduction in numbers is reflected in other countries for which data are available. It is not so clear whether this drop will be as rapid as Johnston fears and whether it will have the effects he predicts on the lives of Deaf people and on the viability of a lively community of users of sign languages—in the Australian case, Auslan.
    Moores, Donald F.
  • Comments on "W(h)ither the Deaf Community?"
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    Subject Headings:
    • Johnston, Trevor. W(h)ither the deaf community? population, genetics, and the future of Australian Sign Language.
    • Deaf -- Australia.
    • Deaf -- United States.
    Abstract:
      Responding to Johnston's projections for the future of Australian Sign Language (Auslan), I analyzed school enrollments in American educational programs and found similar trends. There are fewer deaf and hard of hearing children in school now than twenty years ago, with the largest decline, approximately 50 percent, among children with profound hearing losses. Consistent with the Australian data, although to a smaller degree, increasing numbers of children are educated through oral-only means, have cochlear implants, and are placed in integrated settings.

      Despite these trends, Johnston's concerns for Auslan do not appear to apply to ASL, primarily because the American population, and, by extension, the American Deaf population, is fifteen times greater than that of Australia. Even with reductions in numbers a critical mass will remain. Secondly, the American Deaf community is heavily involved in education, more so than in any other country. The future of ASL and the American Deaf community is strong.

    Mitchell, Ross E.
  • Comments on "W(h)ither the Deaf Community?": A Normalization Juggernaut?
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    Subject Headings:
    • Johnston, Trevor. W(h)ither the deaf community? population, genetics, and the future of Australian Sign Language.
    • Deaf -- Australia.
    • Australian Sign Language.
    Abstract:
      My response to Johnston's (2004) "W(h)ither the Deaf Community?" is theoretical in nature and sociological in perspective. I comment on how Johnston's particular concern for the possible demise of Australian Sign Language (Auslan) in Australia's currently transforming social and medical context surrounding childhood deafness is legitimate but perhaps a bit premature.
    Vonen, Arnfinn Muruvik.
  • Comments on "W(h)ither the Deaf Community?": A Timely Warning
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    Subject Headings:
    • Johnston, Trevor. W(h)ither the deaf community? population, genetics, and the future of Australian Sign Language.
    • Deaf -- Education -- Norway.
    • Norwegian Sign Language.
    Abstract:
      Inspired by Johnston's thought-provoking article, this article reports from the current Norwegian scene to make two main points. First, Norwegian Sign Language paradoxically appears to be better protected as well as more threatened than ever. Second, success in bilingual deaf education is not logically incompatible with a placement primarily in the local school.

Response to Comments

    Johnston, Trevor.
  • Response to Comments
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    Subject Headings:
    • Deaf -- Australia.
    • Australian Sign Language.
    Abstract:
      In my response to the commentaries made about my article, I observe that the commentators find no obvious errors with my estimates of the size of the signing deaf community. However, most of them are not as pessimistic as I am partly because of the position they take on a number of issues. Namely, the supposed uniqueness of Australia in its treatment of deaf people and deafness; the relevancy of different types of signers to the fate of signed languages; the inevitability or reversibility of declining numbers; the ethics of reproductive technology; and, finally, the responsibilities of linguists vis-à-vis the communities they work with. In my response, I show how we differently interpret these issues and argue for my perspective on them.



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