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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community
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In deaf education, language of instruction is intricately linked with language acquisition and exposure for deaf and hard of hearing students because schools are usually the primary places for the students to acquire a language, be it ASL, spoken English, contact signing, or an English-based visual communication system. Behind every language of instruction, there is an educational philosophy that explains the choice of the language and the values that teachers and administrators want to instill in their students. If the language is ASL, the teachers and administrators may have the same respect for ASL as they do for English and convey the positive values of ASL by using it with their deaf and hard of hearing students. The positive values can be, for example, the status of ASL as a true language, the awareness of linguistic and cultural values of ASL, the pride of being bilingual with English and ASL, and the sense of being normal with the use of ASL. If the language is strictly English in an oral or manual mode, the teachers and administrators may not have as much respect for ASL as they have for English and they convey the negative values toward ASL by using only an English-based communication method with their students. The negative values can be the unacknowledged status of ASL as a true language, misconceptions of ASL, and the indignity of using ASL. If the language of instruction contains both English and ASL components, it depends on how the teachers and administrators convey the message to the students with their actions and use of language.

Considering educational background, language acquisition and exposure, family hearing status, and one’s communication preference, there are bound to be differences in opinions and viewpoints about ASL in terms of its standardization, its linguistic and prestigious status, and the extent of English influence on the signing. The differing perceptions of linguistic features and the role of linguistic and social information in attitudes led to the basic research question of the study: What are the linguistic and social factors that govern attitudes toward signing in the American Deaf community?

The study is basically an exploratory analysis with an attempt to find patterns in linguistic and social factors in the perceptions of and attitudes toward signing variation in the American Deaf community. Perceptions and attitudes based on social characteristics of the subjects (i.e., race, age of generation, and age of ASL acquisition) and the description of subjects’ responses to the signing are discussed along with the subjects’ attitudinal evaluation.

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