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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Identities in the Making: Local Lives, Transnational Connections

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The Taste of Change

This was certainly a change, and as such a potential turning point in life. Much changed for her when she learned sign language and experienced the ease in communication. She was, however, not enrolled in the deaf school as a resident, as many of the other deaf pupils: “I lived at home, but every week I spent one night there. I was very content and happy for these single nights. But my parents didn’t want to let me stay there more permanently.”

This is a classic conflict. The parents want to have their deaf child at home, whereas the child probably would benefit from being more thoroughly immersed in a Deaf environment. This parental desire is evident through the widespread embodiment of the “spatial closeness is sameness” metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson 1999), which, in Norway and other parts of the Western world, says that you belong to the place where your biology roots are. Hilde comments, “I can very well understand that this is a difficult decision to make. It is hard to see the best solution. But now, today, my mother has admitted that it probably would have been wise to let me spend more time at the boarding school.”

When Hilde was at home for long periods during vacations, her mother now and then sent her away to holiday camps:

Three or four summers, I went to Vetlegrenda with other deaf kids. Some of the leaders used sign language; and when we ate breakfast together, I got this good family feeling. I never stayed at these camps for more than two weeks, because my mother wanted me to come home. I attended other camps as well, and once we went to the deaf church. That was a good experience, and I decided that I should attend the deaf church at Christmas every year.

The school and some of the holiday camps offered her an environment in which she could communicate with ease. However, her continual moves back and forth between home and school were demanding. She felt divided. Her home environment was still restricted and contained a certain nonacceptance because of the dominant aural/oral mode of communication.

It can work very well if the parents have the necessary guts to learn sign language. But it is mostly mothers that try to accommodate. Before, it was like this, but today, the fathers seem to be engaged as well, and I love seeing this happen. Today, both parents have the right to and the opportunity to learn sign language. This was not the case when I grew up.

The experience at school did not lead to a thorough revision of her life. She did not yet accept her own deafness, and she was still striving to become “like everybody else,” even if the seeds of change had started to grow.

Returning to the Oral Pathway

At age twelve, I moved away from that school to a school for the hard of hearing. Many friends and others, me included, have wondered why I made this move. Part of the answer was that my teacher meant that I spoke well and that it would be better for my development to move to this other school. But this change was frightening for me. While the former school was exclusively for deaf signing children, this new one was oral. I was constantly envious of my classmates, because they could understand each other by speaking. But my speech was hardly understandable, so I became frustrated and irritated because of the continual misunderstandings.

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