It has become increasingly clear that current threats to global linguistic diversity are not restricted to the loss of spoken languages. Signed languages are vulnerable to familiar patterns of language shift and the global spread of a few influential languages. But the ecologies of signed languages are also affected by genetics, social attitudes toward deafness, educational and public health policies, and a widespread modality chauvinism that views spoken languages as inherently superior or more desirable. This research report reviews what is known about sign language vitality and endangerment globally, and considers the responses from communities, governments, and linguists.
It is striking how little attention has been paid to sign language vitality, endangerment, and revitalization, even as research on signed languages has occupied an increasingly prominent position in linguistic theory. It is time for linguists from a broader range of backgrounds to consider the causes, consequences, and appropriate responses to current threats to sign language diversity. In doing so, we must articulate more clearly the value of this diversity to the field of linguistics and the responsibilities the field has toward preserving it.