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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf History and Culture in Spain: A Reader of Primary Documents
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Ángel Herrero Blanco’s essay “Sign Languages, Signs of Culture” (2000) is perhaps the most difficult reading in the book because of his precise and in-depth use of linguistic terminology, but for the same reason it is one of the most important. Herrero Blanco dialogues with Stokoe and Chomsky to work toward an answer to the question, “What implications does the recognition of SLs [Signed Languages] have for our conception of language?” This article appropriately closes the gap that existed between Spain and other nations, as pointed out by many of the authors included in this book. Research communities in Spain have recognized sign language not only as an object of investigation in itself but also as indicative of more general issues of language unfolding in the discipline of linguistics. Of course, from the time of this essay’s publication (2000), several years passed before the Spanish government officially recognized sign languages. Just as happened in the United States, what deaf people have known all along is now supported and legitimized by research communities in Spain—a necessary step in the process of improving the position of deaf people within a largely hearing society.

Part V: A Selection of Deaf Poetry

In an earlier publication that led to the idea for this book (“Deaf Cultural Production in Twentieth-Century Madrid” in Sign Language Studies 7, no.4 [2007]), I also pointed out that it is important that researchers pay more attention to the literary production occurring naturally through signed languages in Spain. Here, however, because of the present volume’s focus on printed matter, I have only included written poetry composed through the modality of spoken language. It is necessary to point out that today, poetry originally written by deaf individuals in English is far from being a marker of identity for the American deaf community. Given a context where deafness as a mere physical trait is strongly contrasted with the idea of the Deaf community as a social group possessing a natural language (ASL) and cultural forms all their own, the poetic form that best expresses this Deaf (capital D) identity is signed/visual poetry originally composed in ASL. Although poetry of this nature (visual poetry composed in signed language) undoubtedly exists in Spain, poems composed in the written forms of oral languages (Castillian Spanish, Catalán, etc.) likely enjoy a cultural status and acceptance that they lack in the United States. The CNSE has routinely held poetry competitions that have served as a forum for such poems, and some of the most respected postlingually deaf poets (Polo Merino, Pinedo Peydró) have chosen to compose directly in the written form of oral language. These poems, although composed through the written form of oral language and often presenting a questionable understanding of deafness as the lack of sound (as established, for example, by Teresa de Cartagena), nevertheless still need to be understood as reflecting the initial process of development of a culturally Deaf identity. The authors whose poems are included here, José Luis Marroquín, Daniel Alvarez Reyes, Manuel Gamez Quintana, Pablo Jesús Sesma Valles, Inés Polo Merino, Pablo Jesús Sesma Valles, Rakel Rodríguez Castrejón, and Dopin, express a variety of emotions and perspectives on tensions with the larger hearing society and ultimately argue for an inclusive notion of community.

It is my hope that the readings that follow will encourage readers to further investigate the figures and issues associated with deaf history and culture in Spain. Ultimately, however, disseminating documents of this type is crucial to broadening our understanding of the nature and history of the struggles faced by deaf people today—no matter where that struggle unfolds.


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