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American Annals of the Deaf

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Hearing, Mother Father Deaf: Hearing People in Deaf Families

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By now it should be noticeable that I do not use the big-“D” deaf convention. I stopped using it after writing an article about the role and status of hearing people in the deaf community, particularly sign language interpreters (Napier, 2002a). In that article, I discussed the notion of a third culture—first mooted by Bienvenu (1987) and Sherwood (1987)—recognizing that deaf and hearing people come from different cultures but that sign language interpreters (and others, such as hearing people with deaf parents) have a foot in both worlds. Acknowledgment of a third culture allows for deaf and hearing cultures to blend, and it accounts for how hearing people can comfortably feel that they are a part of the deaf community without being audiologically deaf.

The premise of my article was that I did not feel comfortable being referred to as a hearing person, that I did not want to be associated with the hearing majority who do not understand the deaf community and deaf culture. Thus I suggested:

By inverting the D/deaf convention, I propose the following convention: Hearing people are those consumed by the Hearing culture; they are ignorant or naive about the Deaf community and its culture and typically regard deafness from a pathological point of view; hearing people, however, are those who have internalized Deaf culture, ally themselves with Deaf people, and are regarded as members of the Deaf community. (Napier, 2002a, p. 145)
This convention has also been suggested by Ladd (2003) and further developed by Stone (2005) who proposed a more “deaf-centered” perspective by using the term Deaf (hearing). I have stopped using any such convention, as I realized that in trying to advocate a written principle that distanced me from other people who can hear and may not be sympathetic to the deaf community or deaf culture, I was still suggesting a nomenclature that identified me as a hearing person, that distinguished me (and others) from deaf people. Even Stone’s deaf-centered categorization still focuses on audiological status. In her later writings, Padden (1998; Padden & Humphries, 2005) changed her rhetoric about deaf culture. Although she retained her earlier definition of the deaf community, she focused more on linguistic and cultural boundaries rather than on boundaries between hearing and deaf people. In a similar vein, Bahan (1997) and Jokkinen (2000) have both suggested that deaf community members should be referred to by their linguistic rather than audiological status—as sign language users.

So what is my cultural identity in relation to the deaf community? I am a multilingual sign language user. I am bicultural, in that I know how to navigate through both deaf and hearing cultures. A multiculturalist is a person subject to the influences of more than one culture (Wikipedia, 2006). Thus it could be said that I am multicultural, as I have adapted my behaviors to fit with Australian cultural norms and values, some of which differ from British cultural values. I also hold dual citizenship, thus I can be considered as both British and Australian.

I define myself in relation to the languages I use and the cultures in which I participate, but essentially I identify myself as me. There is no one else who has had exactly the same life experience as me. Returning to Ladd’s (2003) notion of Deafhood, I would like to assert that I would like to be identified by what constitutes my selfhood, my personal identity, and my individuality—my ipseity. Seity is defined as “that which constitutes the self, selfhood” (Wikipedia, 2006), and I would consider myself to have different identities, depending on the context I am in. Thus far, I have discussed my status as a multilingual interpreter, who is a multicultural member of the deaf, hearing, British, and Australian communities. There is at least one more aspect of my seity to explore.

In reading this chapter, you will have noticed the conspicuous absence of the term Coda (adult who has deaf parents), which is commonly used to describe people like me. The reason I do not use the term Coda is because I do not identify with that term. Let me explain why.


The Coda phenomenon exploded in the 1980s after the establishment of CODA International, which is an organization that represents the needs of hearing people with deaf parents and seeks to educate the wider community about Codas. Since that time, hearing people with deaf parents have been able to attend conferences to discuss their life experience of growing up hearing in a deaf family.7 Many people have reported that until the Coda identity was defined, they felt caught between two worlds and unsure of their identity, as they were neither deaf nor hearing. Thus they found relief in engaging with other people like themselves and realizing that others had similar confusion.

People now identify themselves using the term (e.g., “I’m Jane, I’m a Coda”) and go to great lengths to ensure that they are introduced to one another. At deaf-, sign language-, and interpreting-related conferences, delegates who are hearing with deaf parents meet for Coda-only sessions. There are Coda discussion lists, publications, and workshops. The

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