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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Many Ways to Be Deaf: International Variation in Deaf Communities

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Whether or not deaf people deserve the judgment, hearing people do not necessarily consider deaf people to be competent workers or desirable colleagues. One Chiying deaf man described a setting in which he worked with hearing people. He felt his hearing coworkers looked down on him, and he resolved to change their opinions of him. He made it a point to sit down and talk with each one about the job and his qualifications for it. He told me that they respected him after that.

Perhaps nowhere is the disdain for deaf people more evident than in the lack of services for them. It is probably not surprising that interpreting services for hearing people wanting to talk with deaf people or deaf people wanting to talk with hearing people did not seem available with any certainty in Kaohsiung in the early 1990s. As far as I knew, none of the Chiying staff members, deaf or hearing, knew of any service like that, although arrangements might be made among individuals for particular events to be interpreted.

A hearing person deeply involved with the deaf community once explained to me that an interpreter was someone who “explained for the deaf people at the police station.” When I asked whether interpreters served other functions, he seemed surprised and said that that was the usual task. Although he was admittedly untrained and not confident as an interpreter, he nevertheless functioned as one from time to time. He refused payment for his services, saying deaf people would be angry with him if he accepted payment. Hearing people who sometimes functioned as interpreters and knew personal details of deaf people’s lives routinely revealed them to me. The mere fact that someone was the interpreter for an event was not necessarily enough to prevent that person from assuming other roles. For example, at a large, formal event, the interpreter on stage stopped functioning as interpreter to help someone with a mobility impairment up the stairs as the spoken parts of the event continued. The interpreter resumed the task of interpreting once the mobility-impaired woman reached her destination, and many minutes of interpretation were lost.

A deaf woman from a hearing family came to the Chiying School one day looking for an interpreter. Although she had engaged in antisocial behavior as a young girl, she had finally married. But her deaf husband committed petty crimes to provide for them and wound up in jail. Now, she wanted to see a lawyer about a divorce. An interpreter I knew refused to interpret for the deaf woman because the interpreter disapproved of the woman’s desire to divorce her jailed husband.

In the most jarring of interpreting-related experiences I had, I observed a court hearing at which an interpreter was present. The proceedings dealt with a deaf person accused of an extremely serious crime. The accused deaf person and spouse would begin to sign as if to question the interpreter (not the lawyers), and the interpreter would sign (not interpret) DENG, DENG (“wait, wait”) and convince them to stay silent while the tense court proceedings continued. To my knowledge, the accused person was found guilty and received the harshest of sentences.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

The Chiying School in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, has existed for nearly 50 years. The description of the school in this chapter suggests that there were always “many ways to be deaf” at Chiying. Linguistic diversity has always been a feature of deaf life at Chiying, with both spoken and signed languages as part of the environment. Spoken and written Japanese and Chinese have been and still are significant in aspects of deaf life there. The Chinese language continues to be held in very high esteem by deaf Taiwanese. Signed languages have occupied an important place in life at Chiying: for many years, CSL was Chiying’s medium of instruction, and now, TSL serves that role. TSL conversation outside of classes is abundant while remnants of CSL remain in everyday life for many people. TSL was not viewed as superior to Signed Mandarin by the Chiying deaf community. However, most people seemed to consider it much more efficient than Signed Mandarin. ASL signs were a curiosity to the Chiying signers, and without exception, they admired ASL fingerspelling.


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