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Language Policy and Planning for Sign Languages

Timothy G. Reagan

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The 16th Volume in the Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities Series

From Language Policy

Researchers in the fields of applied linguistics and sign language studies have long been interested in a similar vein of inquiry: the role of language in education. At the center of the centuries—long deaf education debate is the question of which language(s) to use to teach deaf children (Erting 1978). Suggesting a transdisciplinary orientation, Hornberger and Hult (2006) call for research that emerges from real-world problems and draws on “multiple disciplines to create a holistic portrait of (the role of) language (in) teaching and learning” (p. 80). Reagan responds to this call by asking his subject the construction of deafness as a major factor in language policy and planning (LPP) for sign languages, while highlighting the impact of assistive listening technology on such efforts. Dovetailing principles from both fields, Reagan paints a vivid picture of the LPP landscape for sign languages. His target audiences include (1) readers familiar with LPP literature who are interested in sign languages and deaf communities and (2) members of the Deaf-World and those involved in sign language studies (and unfamiliar with LPP).

       Chapter One begins with a brief introduction to sign languages and draws attention to the diversity that exists both among and within sign languages. Reagan explicates the fundamental differences between sign languages (e.g., American Sign Language, Australian Sign Language, Israeli Sign Language) and manual sign codes which are developed to represent a spoken language in a visual/gestural modality (e.g., Signing Exact English, Conceptually Accurate Signed English). This important distinction contextualizes Reagan’s ensuing discussion of competing constructions of deafness (e.g., medical view, sociocultural view) and sets the stage for presenting the history of LPP for sign languages in Chapters Three and Four.

       Chapter Two is intended to orient sign language experts to the academic discipline of LPP and to language planning activities for spoken languages. Excluding the first few pages, the chapter seems written with LPP experts in mind as Reagan presents a historical overview of LPP studies and debates in the field. He makes a significant contribution to the LPP literature by proffering attitude planning, “efforts to change or alter the attitudes of individuals or groups either toward a particular language…or toward monolingualism, bilingualism, or multilingualism” (p. 51).

       In Chapter Three, Reagan masterfully weaves together the history of American Sign Language (ASL) in deaf education with LPP. Drawing on Nover’s (2000) work, Reagan traces the status of ASL in deaf education from the early 1800s to the present. In 1880, educators of the deaf at the Congress of Milan voted to replace sign language as the dominant medium of instruction with oral/aural approaches, initiating a major shift in sign language status. A cascade of corpus and acquisition planning activities followed including the development of manual sign codes (MSCs) such as the Rochester Method. Reagan concludes the chapter by examining current LPP efforts centered on securing official recognition of ASL, promoting ASL-English bilingual education, and increasing the presence of ASL as a foreign language in secondary and post-secondary institutions.

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Timothy G. Reagan is Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan.

Print Edition: ISBN 978-1-56368-462-3, ISSN 1080-5494, 6 x 9 casebound, 270 pages, 21 figures


E-Book: ISBN 978-1-56368-463-0


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