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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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concept has been expanded to incorporate Koda (a young child with deaf parents) camps and D-Coda (Deaf Child of Deaf Adult) identification. At conferences or workshops where I am presenting on linguistic or interpreting topics, I am often introduced as a Coda first, even though I am not there in my capacity as a hearing person with deaf parents. This label has been embraced by Codas and deaf and interpreting communities worldwide.

I have never felt particularly comfortable with the Coda label for several reasons. First, just because I am hearing and have deaf parents does not mean that I will get along with other people with the same background. Having deaf parents may be the only thing we have in common; we may have no other mutual interests; we may not have the same sense of humor. I am uncomfortable with the notion that we all have to be friends. I do, in fact, have several hearing friends who grew up with deaf parents, and I have enjoyed many a night sharing funny stories about the similarities and differences in our upbringing; but it is not a given that I will want to become friends with every Coda that I meet.

Second, it seems to me that there is an assumption that all hearing people who grew up with deaf parents need to “offload” about their experience; that they did not have a normal childhood because of the responsibilities that they had to bear for their deaf parents. I have never had any interest in bemoaning the life I have had, because I would not be the person I am if most of my family were not deaf. Someone once said, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” so I did. I attended a Coda meeting which was taking place as part of a wider conference. Everybody told a story, most of which recounted the negative impact of having deaf parents. I was not interested in criticizing my parents. At another conference, I was told about a Coda meeting taking place and was asked if I planned to attend. I said no and was then told that it was my duty to go; that I had to let go of my suppressed frustration at having to interpret for my parents all my life. I understand that for many people, these meetings are a release, and I wholeheartedly support people wanting to attend such meetings or workshops if they feel they benefit. But I do not like the expectation that I must attend or that I must have something to say. Is there an assumption that children of immigrant parents need to attend meetings to discuss their upbringing?

Finally, I have a problem with the term. My parents are my parents, not just adults; and I am no longer a child, I am an adult! If I have to label myself based solely on my relationship to my parents, I prefer to use the term coined in the United Kingdom—Hearing, Mother Father Deaf (HMFD), as it better reflects how I would describe myself to deaf people in sign language: me hearing but motherˆfather deaf.

Life as an HMFD

In searching for information about life as an HMFD, one can locate many autobiographical descriptions that detail what is was like to grow up as a hearing person with deaf parents (see Abrams, 1996; Corfmat, 1990; Davis, 2001; Drolsborough, 2000; Miller, 2004; Sidransky, 2006; Steiner, 1995; Walker, 1987). Videos have been produced which provide amusing narrative perspectives (Kraft, 1997) or documentary interviews (Davie & Carty, 1995) on the life of an HMFD. There are even some works of fiction that feature an HMFD character as central to the story (see Ferris, 2001; Glickfield, 1993; Greenberg, 1984; Whitney, 1988). Schiff-Myers (1988) and Singleton and Tittle (2000) have provided informative descriptions of the language development issues for HMFDs. George Taylor (2007) writes a regular column about his thoughts and experiences as an HMFD in the British Deaf Association magazine. Thomas Bull (1998) published an extensive annotated bibliography, which details the range of HMFD-related publications. However, very little research has been carried out on, for, and with HMFDs.

In recent years, linguists have taken an interest in HMFD language use, given that they often grow up bilingual with a spoken and a signed language. Bishop and Hicks (2005), Bishop (2006), and Bishop, Hicks, Bertone, and Sala (2006) have investigated the bimodal code-blending used by hearing adults from deaf families when conversing with one another in ASL or Italian Sign Language (LIS). Pyers and Emmorey (2006) have also explored bimodal bilingualism in adult HMFDs, whereas Baker and Bogaerde (2006; in press) have analyzed the bilingual bimodal acquisition and use of a spoken and signed language by hearing children of deaf parents. These studies can typically be regarded as research on HMFDs, with some involvement from researchers who are HMFDs themselves.

Taking an ethnographic approach to research on, for, and with HMFDs, Hale (2001), Preston (1994; 1996), and Adams (2006) have all conducted interviews in order to examine HMFD experiences of growing up with deaf parents. The most well-known study would be that of the HMFD Paul Preston (1994), who published a book resulting from interviews with 150 HMFDs. Preston found that his informants had positive and negative experiences, and they shared a cultural perspective of the deaf community and its culture. He also conducted an analysis of gendered roles in HMFD children, identifying that it is predominantly the eldest female child who functions as the family interpreter (Preston, 1996).

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