Because Communication is needed on a daily basis for every single transaction made throughout one’s day, it is vital in order to survive in the world. Without the ability to communicate a person is not able to attain their needs. However, how a person communicates differs greatly from person to person. While some communicate by speaking others must communicate using hand gestures and sign languages. Although there are many sign languages all around the world no one knows for certain exactly how many different sign languages exist.
In the UK the sign language utilized is British Sign Language (BSL), and this is the first language of about 150,000 deaf people (Spence). BSL is very unique in the sense that both hands are required in order to sign the alphabet. The deaf community has faced much oppression throughout the years and until recently BSL was not recognized as an official language. However deaf people in the UK form a community formed by a common language. After years of oppression, BSL is finally official and used in schools, however, organizations are still fighting to secure equal rights for the deaf.
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The creation of British Sign Language corresponds directly with the creation of sign language in general. According to Neil Payne, author of the article History of British Sign Language, “One of the first official historical records of BSL dates back to 1576 when a wedding ceremony was conducted in sign language in Leicester” (Payne). This means that BSL has been in use since about the 16th century, which is two centuries before an official sign language school was created. Shortly after this wedding took place John Bulwer was the first person who advocated the possibility of educating deaf people.
In his book, Philocophus Bulwer defends the deaf community and states that a “New Academy” should be created for the deaf (Bulwer). Furthermore, Bulwer studied dead people living in Britain during the 17th century and he concluded that deaf people can “hear” the vibrations of instruments and they can successfully read lips (Bulwer). Several other people followed his example and created a school for the deaf. In 1755 France the very first public school for Deaf children was established by Charles-Michel de l’ï¿½pï¿½e. Although this was a very huge success for the deaf community this victory did not continue in Britain as deaf children were soon “forbidden to use sign language, and as such unable to express themselves and engage fully in learning opportunities” (Payne). Sign Language faced much oppression and was not recognized as a language for many years. This affected those who relied on sign language to communicate.
The history of BSL is one filled with much oppression against deaf people, specifically speaking, children. Being deaf was viewed as an illness that needed to be cured. According to Cath Smith “parents were advised not to allow their children to use signs or even gesture as this would spoil their chances of developing speech and lip-reading skills” (Smith). Children were not allowed to use signs or their hands to attempt to communicate with the world around them. Smith continues by explaining how this affected them later in life, “a study carried out in 1979 found that most deaf school leavers had not progressed beyond a reading age of 8.75 years” (Smith).
Smith explains that this means that they were unable to read simple things such as tabloids, newspapers or anything of that sort. Furthermore, many adult deaf people remember being angry because they were not able to understand what was going on around them or able to express themselves through sign language (Smith). Even in education sign language was forbidden until recently and it was not used in the teaching of deaf schools.
Until recently many deaf children were not properly educated in sign language by either schools or their parents. In school, the practice of sign language was discouraged and was not officially used in schools for deaf children. Furthermore, as discussed in-class lectures, children most easily learn a language up until they reach the age of ten. This means that if deaf children do not start attending school to learn sign language until they are about 7 or later, they face a hard time learning this new language that should have been introduced to them at an earlier age.
Even more, Jim McCloskey states that only 10% of deaf children are born to deaf parents, which means that an astounding 90% of deaf children born are born to hearing parents who probably do not know sign language. Even if parents wanted to learn sign language for the sake of their children classes “were virtually non-existent and there were precious few resources on the subject” (Smith). The history of the deaf did not embark on a more positive direction until 1974 “when it was agreed that British Sign Language is a language of its own right” (Payne). From this moment on more respect was accredited to the Deaf Society and this new acceptance of BSL finally allowed these former repressed children to be able to finally have a viable and positive method of communication.
BSL was officially recognized as a language on the 18th of March 2003. According to George Spence, BSL is the sign language used in England and the UK and this is the first language of about 150,000 people (Spence). BSL has its own grammar that uses “facial expressions, hand shapes and upper body movements to convey meaning” (Spence). Much like any other language BSL also has many regional dialects. For example, many signs used in Northern England are not understood in the South and vice versa (Spence).
However, unlike other languages, BSL still has no legal protection. Many organizations in the UK are trying to fight for the legal rights of BSL. For example, the British Deaf Association (BDA) fights for a society where Sign Language users have the same rights, responsibilities, opportunities and quality of life as everyone else. This includes full access to vital information and services, including education, health and employment. In the meantime, being deaf is not considered being part of a culture.
While language and cultures are closely related, the deaf community shares a common language, BSL. This idea that the deaf forms a culture is the relatively new one. However Abdi Gas, a deaf student, explains that the “definition of a community is a group of people who share common interests and a common heritage” (Gas). Based on this definition Gas continues by stating that deaf people have shared many activities for many years and within this community, they share a sense of belonging they cannot attain anywhere else. In the UK there are many events held every year that provide deaf people with an opportunity to meet.
Furthermore, there are many organizations for deaf people that provide information, advice, support, and help. Some of these organizations include the British Deaf Association (BDA), the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), and the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP). In addition to having many organizations, the deaf culture is one fill of Deaf art including poetry, stories, theatre, media, games, and even blogs. The deaf culture is much like any other culture in the world. They are united by a common language, BSL; therefore they form a society or community group bound together by common interests.
There are many different sign languages used around the world. They have been created due to the necessity for the language, education, and communication of deaf people. BSL is merely an example of one of the many sign languages all around the world. Unfortunately, although BSL is recognized as an official language it does not enjoy the same benefits other languages have. Sign languages are very interesting for linguistics as they provide them with information as to how languages are created. If the mystery behind sign languages is solved then perhaps the mysteries behind spoken languages will too be deciphered in the near future.
Bulwer, John. Philocoplus. London. Humphrey Moseley. 1648. Print.
Gas, Abdi. “The British Deaf Community.” www.islamonline.net. Islam Online, 19. Sept. 2006. Web. 14 Nov. 2009.
Payne, Neil. “A History of British Sign Language.” www.ezinearticles.com. Ezine Articles, 10 Jan. 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2009.
Sign Community. British Deaf Association. www.bda.org.uk. N.p., 2009. Web. 14 Nov. 2009.
Smith, Cath. “The History of British Sign Language.” www.deafsign.com. Deaf Sign. 19 Dec. 2000. Web. 14 Nov. 2009.
Spence George. “British Sign Language: 6 Quick Facts for Beginners.” www.ezinearticles.com. Ezine Articles, 2 Nov. 2006. Web. 14 Nov. 2009.
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