Constructing Language In A Deaf Community

By: Luis Torres

Deborah Tanen, Georgetown University's outstanding linguistics star, urges all of it's students to read a series of articles and books as part of her Cross Cultural Communications Course. A Place of Their Own: Creating the Deaf Community in America by John Vickery Van Cleve, Barry A. Crouch is one of those books and it serves as a particularly strong argument against the imposition of vocalized linguistic hegemonic ownership on communication norms and standards. Point being, people who sign are practicing a genuinely authentic and complex language of their own that deserves a place in linguistic study and research.

Deaf vs. deaf
Unfortunately, much of the research on sign-language centers around it being a "disability" and offers little in terms of sociological substance in understanding the value and the educational significance of reaching sign students. Of particular importance for teachers and counselors is understanding the difference between Deaf with a capital D and deaf with a lower case d. As Jan Branson and Jon Miller note in their article, the biggest detriment to the Deaf community is "cultural construction of deaf people as disabled." Being deaf with a lower case d implies a socially disabled person that lacks social skill sets required for being a part of an integrated community. Being Deaf with a capital D implies that a person is a part of a larger community group of Deaf people with specific tools, such as sign, that enable them to form social norms and rules distinctive to other social groups.

Damned for Their Difference: The Cultural Construction of Deaf People as Disabled
Journal of Social History
Damned for Their Difference: The Cultural Construction of Deaf People as Disabled. By Jan Branson and Don Miller (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2002. ix plus 300pp.).