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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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1. The common orthographic convention, especially in the United States, is to use uppercase D and lowercase d to signify different worldviews and attitudes of people with a particular audiological status. The usefulness of the terms deaf and Deaf for describing communities in American society seems clear; Padden and Humphries (1988, 2) remark on the terms’ complexity and interrelatedness. However, it seems inappropriate to assume that the Taiwan deaf community need necessarily fit this model. In fact, as far as I can tell, Taiwanese deaf people possess both deaf and Deaf characteristics, as well, perhaps, as others that do not fall neatly into either category. Because neither the orthographic convention nor the philosophical positions that the words are meant to express were familiar to my consultants, I refer to Taiwan deaf people as “deaf.” When I discuss the American Deaf community, I use “Deaf.”

Also, throughout this chapter, I use the word community to signify that the people I refer to live in a particular geographic area and share some experiences as well as some political and social conditions. One cannot necessarily assume that they see themselves as a cultural or linguistic community.

2. In mainland China, Chiang had worked in several schools for the deaf. In fact, he himself founded one in the Shanghai area, “but before the school ever got on its feet, Chiang was forced to flee Shanghai” (Smith 1999). Later, in Taiwan, Chiang founded a school in Keelung before he established the Chiying School (Smith 1999). In all of these schools, at least some of the teachers were deaf.

3. On this point, sources disagree. Chao, Chu, and Liu (1988, 9) claim that Chiang Ssu Nung worked with another man, Lu Chun-ou and that, together, they established the school in Keelung.

4. In my contacts with Chiang during the early 1990s, he regularly used either speech or what would be called “sign supported speech” (Johnson, Liddell, and Erting 1989) to communicate with me and with the people around him. He spoke Shanghainese and signed the Chinese signs.

5. On this point, Chiang never expressed any reason for his preference when I met him in the early 1990s. Chao Chien-Min expresses his preference for CSL by saying, “Japanese Sign Language is not suited for the thoughts, concepts and characters of our country” (Chao, Chu, and Liu 1988, 9-10).

6. I showed some of the deaf staff members one authoritative work titled Long Ya Ren Shou Yu Tu (Deaf-Mute People’s Sign Language Manual) published in Shanghai, China. Each volume has illustrations of the signs of mainland China and written explanations of how to form each sign. The Chiying deaf people said they had never seen the manual before, but they were immediately familiar with 80%–95% of what they saw. As they examined the book, some confirmed with smiles that they had indeed learned particular signs in the book but had not used or thought of them in a long time.

7. In this chapter, I follow the orthographic convention of using small capital letters to write the glosses for signs. In the case of TSL signs, I provide a Mandarin gloss and an English translation in parentheses. Where possible, I refer to the Mandarin gloss in Smith and Ting (1979, 1984). However, because Smith and Ting (1979, 1984) do not use Roman letters to provide a gloss, I gloss signs in Mandarin using Chinese pinyin, a romanization system not much used in Taiwan but standardly used in the linguistic literature on Mandarin.

8. I became aware of these multiple signs because I would often point to an object or perform an action and ask for the sign. I once commented that my inquiries must be tiresome for my consultants, but they brushed off my concern, saying that my effort was similar in kind, if not in quantity, to that of Taiwanese deaf people from different parts of Taiwan, who often used this strategy to learn the local signs.

9. Reilly (1995) finds the same pattern in a Thai school for the deaf.

10. Once, I wanted F—— to use the sign RI BEN (Japan). To that end, I showed him a written Japanese ad I had found in a magazine. Though I recognized one or two kanji, I had no idea what the ad said in total; for me, it was only an example of Japanese writing. I asked F—— where the writing was from, assuming his response would be RI BEN and that would start us off. But F——’s answer was more than just the sign RI BEN, and he launched into a discussion I had not predicted. I quickly got lost. It turned out that he had read the ad and made a comment about its content. When he realized that his assumption that I could read Japanese was incorrect, he explained meticulously what each character meant and also deconstructed his comment about it.

11. Indeed, to be kept isolated at home is part of many deaf Taiwanese young people’s lives, even if they are educated. Sometimes as a punishment for misbehavior, they are kept home by their parents. In such cases, their friends sadly say that so-and-so is “at home.”

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