Chapter 1 of The Signing Family: What Every Parent Should Know about Sign Communication continued . . .

It is difficult to trace sign languages to a single origin because, like spoken languages, they evolved among deaf people in various places. Until recently, most communities of deaf people maintained their distinctive brands of signing for generations. There can be great variation even within a single country if deaf people from various communities do not mingle. Sign differences can be regional (the signs for aunt and uncle are different in Louisiana and Oregon) or ethnic (some sign variations are unique to deaf African Americans). In Canada the sign language of most deaf people living in the French-speaking province of Quebec, called Langue des Signes Québécoise, is different from that of the predominantly English-speaking parts of Canada.

Today, regional and group differences are beginning to fade. Affordable air travel brings large numbers of deaf people together for sports events, festivals, and conferences. Sign dictionaries are becoming a part of every deaf person's life, and signing on cable television has helped homogenize sign languages within national borders. Still there will always be regional differences despite the trend to uniformity, much the same as regional dialects will always exist in spoken languages.

Signing and Parenting

In an authentic signed conversation between two deaf people, there is hardly an opportunity for you to cut in and announce sheepishly, "Hey, I'm just learning to sign." You struggle to catch a sign here and there, but the conversation swirls on. Signing is the lifeblood of communication for the conversants and they just charge ahead with it.

Most parents of deaf children know only fingerspelling and a few signs. To become proficient signers, both parents and children need role models such as Deaf adults, older deaf children who are fluent signers, and other parents who have learned to sign well. Your best role models may be the people who inspired you, either directly or indirectly, to open your home and heart to sign.

You want to sign the way Deaf people do so that the conversation in your home can flow freely. You arm yourself with a course or two and set off into the Deaf community. But they sign so fast! And they can talk about anything and be understood. "Oh," you think, "that's what our family needs." There is no dimension of thought that cannot be expressed through signing. That's one of the keys for you in choosing to sign with your deaf child-you want unhindered communication with your child.

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