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American Annals of the Deaf

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Many Ways to Be Deaf: International Variation in Deaf Communities

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Apart from linguistic issues, the Chiying deaf people have a range of opinions and attitudes where deafness is concerned. Most of the people with whom I came in frequent contact had very early ties to a signed language. A majority of them learned CSL first at the Chiying School, and when they went off to middle school in Tainan, they learned TSL, which had long been the medium of instruction in the public schools for the deaf in Taiwan. Their early contact with a signed language notwithstanding, many of the Chiying deaf group hold hearing people and their values as an ever present concern. A statement made to me by Chiang Ssu Nung captured this idea. I had heard that Chiang believed that CSL was a better language than JSL, and I was anxious to hear him articulate this position. But my question seemed to bore him. “The best sign language,” he said, “is the sign language which hearing people can easily understand.”

In contrast, many deaf people are indignant about some of the social and economic issues they face. Indeed, some of the Chiying deaf people seem to have developed a secure sense of themselves as human beings with every right to inhabit the largely hearing world around them and to be beneficiaries of all it has to offer.


This chapter was developed from a paper presented at the International Sixth Conference of Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., November, 1998. I could not have written it alone. I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the following people. Leila Monaghan encouraged me to write this chapter and gave me anthropological guidance in the form of many patient and helpful comments throughout the process. Long Peng’s comments on the very underpinnings of the chapter changed it for the better. Without a doubt, much of what we know about TSL and deaf life in Taiwan, we know from Wayne Smith’s treasure trove of published and unpublished work. He has shared all of his resources with me throughout the years. The illustrations for the figures in this chapter are from Smith’s work and are used by permission. Grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Association of University Women, and the University of Arizona financed my work in Taiwan. With a great deal of help from Jane Tsay, Jennifer Chiang, and Chiang Ssu Nung, I was able to arrange to live at the Chiying School. Finally, the contributions that the deaf adults and children in the Chiying School community of the early 1990s made to my work and to my life is incalculable. I, alone, am responsible for any inaccuracies within this chapter.

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