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  • The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages: Advocacy and Outcomes around the World ed. by Maartje De Meulder, Joseph J. Murray and Rachel L. McKee
  • J. Albert Bickford (bio)
The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages: Advocacy and Outcomes around the World, ed. Maartje De Meulder, Joseph J. Murray and Rachel L. McKee (Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 2019, 352 pages. Hardbound $149.95, ISBN 978-1-7889-2400-9; Paperback $49.95, ISBN 978-1-7889-2399-6; PDF $40.00, ISBN 978-1-7889-2401-6; ePUB $40.00, ISBN 978-1-7889-2402-3)

This new volume presents a set of case studies about the legal status of sign languages in eighteen countries and regions, as examples of advocacy and language planning at the national and regional levels. More than just a discussion of laws, these studies explore their social context, the processes by which they came to be enacted, and their effectiveness. Although the book is not intended as a how-to guide for developing sign language legislation, these varying situations can still serve as models for language activists, providing a framework for planning sign language advocacy and outlining strategies, realistic expectations, and pitfalls. Many of these studies are the first of their kind in their respective countries and reflect recent events and ongoing developments.

The authors of the individual case studies were participantobservers in the campaigns described. At least one coauthor of each study is deaf, reflecting a broader theme that emerges from the studies: success in enacting and implementing legislation depends on broadbased collaboration between deaf community members and academic and political allies, some of whom have no prior involvement with deaf people. This broad perspective—academic, political, and social—is one of the strengths of the book.

The editors' introduction makes a key distinction (following De Meulder 2015) between explicit and implicit legal recognition. [End Page 699] Explicit recognition accords a sign language status as a language, whereas implicit recognition treats sign language in the context of laws addressing other issues, such as disability or education. Many laws take a hybrid approach, incorporating both types of recognition. A key influence in many countries has been the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2006, an example of implicit recognition. Still, since the 1990s, there has been increasing interest in explicit recognition, from the perspective of linguistic human rights, especially in Europe. Laws generally address concerns such as the right of deaf children and their families to learn and use a sign language, educational practices, use in general or in specific situations, instrumental rights such as sign language interpreters and captioning, and corpus planning such as dictionaries and instructional materials, among others. These laws may be modeled on legislation for minority spoken languages in a country, but they often do not achieve equal status with them.

The case studies are organized into four main sections. Part 1 presents four recent "success stories," laws recently enacted (in Ireland, Korea, Malta, and Scotland). Part 2 describes five situations where recognition is implicit (in Turkey, Japan, United States, Chile, and France). Part 3 present three ongoing campaigns (in Netherlands, Italy, and Norway) that have not yet succeeded. However, just getting a law on the books is not sufficient; there must be ongoing implementation of its provisions, and such challenges are discussed in the final six countries (Austria, New Zealand, Iceland, Brazil, Catalunya, and Belgium).

Thirteen of the countries/regions represented are European or more broadly Western. Only two are in South America (Brazil, Chile) and three in Asia (Japan, Korea, Turkey). This imbalance, of course, reflects greater progress towards legal support for sign languages in Europe, as documented in Wheatley and Pabsch (2012). It is understandable that the editors were limited in their selection by who offered to contribute to the volume. Still, we should hope there will eventually be a broader survey of efforts in other parts of the world, particularly Africa, to provide understanding of how these issues manifest themselves in a wider variety of cultural and legal systems. [End Page 700]

A closing epilogue summarizes the main themes that emerge from the case studies. In some countries, legislators...


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pp. 699-702
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