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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf History and Culture in Spain: A Reader of Primary Documents
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realm. In the selections included here, he attempts to clarify the divisions among deaf people themselves at the same time that he points to a better future for all deaf people. As a figurehead of the deaf world at this time in Spain, he is in a position to disseminate the advances in signed television programming (1984) and interpreting services (1986) made by the government in Madrid, advances that followed on the heels of similar developments in the United States.[5]

This section also includes the work of an English-speaking, hearing scholar of deafness. Oliver Sacks (1994), although well-known for readable works in neuropsychology such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, has also lent his voice to the support of deaf population as a cultural community in Seeing Voices (1989). When the latter was translated for a Spanish readership in 1994, Sacks wrote a new prologue, which is published here for the first time in English. This selection documents the context of a Spain poised to once again take strides on behalf of deaf people. Sacks writes that “this is a crucial time for deaf people in Spain [. . .] now there is a possibility of radical change.”

José Gabriel Storch de Gracia y Asensio, an accomplished author and law professor at Madrid’s Universidad Complutense, adds to the palpable feeling of change in the air in Spain through his short pieces included here. These pieces are directed to a general audience and advocate rights that at the time had not yet been sufficiently secured in Spanish society: “On the Right of Deaf Persons to an Accessible Television, 1” (1997), “The Fundamental Right to Communication” (1999), and “The Right to Our Sign Language” (1999). His reminder that “rights are not freely given, rather they are won through struggle” serves also, in the context of the present volume, as a cue to view the history of deaf people in Spain not as an unavoidable progressive enlightenment but rather in terms of a struggle over different conceptions of deafness that have been advocated by individuals and subsequently enforced through systems of power. Together, these selections document the contemporary struggle of deaf people in Spain and, by way of underscoring the significance of deaf experiences, contribute to the pending explicit recognition of deaf culture.

Part IV: The Recognition of Deaf Language and Culture

In the 1990s—that is, at the same time that the public dialogue on deafness in Spanish society was gaining ground—the research communities in Spain were turning to sign language much as those in the United States had in the late 1950s and 1960s. The firsthand experiences and social issues confronted by deaf people, about which such figures as Polo Merino and Pinedo Peydró had written so cogently in the late 1970s and 1980s, were now being supported and legitimized by more scientific and academic research. This research sought to establish that deaf people not merely deserve the same rights, education, and work opportunities as hearing people but moreover possess a language and a culture. Many of the essays in this section make explicit reference to the scholarly tradition in the United States, and all are arguably indebted to it implicitly.

Perhaps the most significant document of this period is the doctoral dissertation of a hearing researcher named María Ángeles Rodríguez González, titled simply Sign Language (1992), that undoubtedly establishes LSE properly as an object worthy of linguistic study. In the conclusion to her volume, which forms the last part of the excerpts included here, she lists her own twenty-six contributions to the study of signed languages, contextualizing them explicitly within the tradition of scholarship initiated by Stokoe. However, this excerpt’s historical importance overshadows neither the author’s clear style nor her insights into the linguistic dimension of sign language.

In my estimation, Félix-Jesús Pinedo Peydró’s contribution to this section represents the growing acceptance of the linguistic and cultural legitimation of sign language in Spain. When read against his previous writings (in part III), his speech titled “Spanish Sign Language (LSE): A True Language” (1995) continues his emphasis on the public dissemination of knowledge just as before and yet does so newly invigorated by an engagement with American linguistic arguments in support of sign language as well as explicit mention of Gallaudet and an American deaf poet.

The discussion of visual culture taken from Amparo Minguet Soto’s Sociological and Cultural Traits of Deaf People (2000) reads as an apt transposition of works such as Padden and Humphries’s Deaf in America (1988) and Susan Rutherford’s A Study of American Deaf Folklore (1993), arguing for the existence of cultural practices that are unique to the deaf cultures in Spain. Quite interesting also is the inclusion of the story of the childhood realization by American Deaf researcher Samuel J. Supalla (author of the foreword to the present volume) that not everyone was deaf. This story, recounted as an archetypal and even mythic event, testifies to the powerful modeling capacity exercised by the strong Deaf identity in America on the developing Spanish context of the 1990s.


5. Leah Hager Cohen (1995) notes in her memoir that “although the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) was first proposed in 1964, it did not begin certifying interpreters until 1972. Even then, the idea of treating interpreting as a profession caught on gradually. Until 1972, no official standards or code of ethics had ever existed; few interpreters ever received remuneration for their work, and the quality of service varied dramatically from interpreter to interpreter” (249).
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