Plurilingualism and (In)competence in Deaf Education

This month we published Critical Perspectives on Plurilingualism in Deaf Education edited by Kristin Snoddon and Joanne C. Weber. In this post the editors explain the inspiration behind the book.

This book was inspired by what we see as an unbalanced revitalization of sign languages. Around the world, national sign languages are increasingly popular as second language courses in schools and postsecondary contexts. At the same time, their learning and use by deaf children is in decline in countries that previously afforded the congregation of deaf children in some form, whether in special education settings or (more rarely) bilingual education classrooms and schools where a national sign language and written/spoken language are languages of instruction.

In many global North countries, this decline in deaf children’s learning of sign language is due to their medicalization in a framework of hearing screening and early intervention and policies that restrict families’ learning of sign language when a child receives a cochlear implant. In both the North and South, however, the way that governments and policy-makers have interpreted the tenets of inclusive education has meant the dismantling of deaf schools and other settings where deaf children can gather. Deaf people’s gathering inside and outside the classroom is critical to the transmission and maintenance of sign languages, even when teachers in these settings do not use a national sign language. Without sign languages, deaf children are at risk of language deprivation, which leads to poor educational and health outcomes.

However, there are new directions in plurilingual education for deaf children and youth in terms of classroom pedagogy, programming, and curricula. This research is driven by deaf ontologies, or what deaf people do with language. There is a need to further explore what concepts such as plurilingualism and translanguaging mean in the context of deaf people’s self-determination and empowerment.

Hannah Arendt (1961) wrote that in spite of efforts to build a new world through the education of children, children are introduced to a pre-existing world that has been constructed by those who came before us. Our book chronicles the history of education for deaf children and the suppression of sign languages in several contexts, including the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, and Canada.

As this book went to press, both of us learned that the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan, where we respectively live, are rolling out American Sign Language (ASL) curricula and classes for hearing high school students. At the same time, deaf children and youth across Canada are unlikely to receive broad support for learning in ASL via early intervention systems or schools. It is in these contexts and others that new directions in plurilingual sign language-medium education are needed, driven by the agency of signing deaf people.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might like The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages edited by Maartje De Meulder, Joseph J. Murray and Rachel L. McKee.

Acadeafic: An Academic Platform for Sign Language and Deaf Studies Research

We have recently become a sponsor of Acadeafic, a new academic platform providing blogs and vlogs about sign language and Deaf Studies research. In this post, one of the site’s creators, our author Maartje De Meulder, explains how the idea for the platform came about, what its aims are and what you can expect to find there.

Acadeafic is a deaf-curated multi-author academic platform that allows Deaf Studies and sign language researchers to share their work in a bite-sized format. There is an amazing output of research on Deaf Studies and sign languages (journal articles, books, research projects, dissertations, and more), but as a research community we want to do more to share our work with audiences within and beyond academia, on an open-access basis, and in formats that are easier to digest than full-length academic prose.

All our posts are bilingual, consisting of a blog in English and a vlog in International Sign (or a national signed language). The blogs and vlogs are designed to act as stand-alone pieces and are not necessarily translations from one language to the other. We believe that texts in a written language such as English and in a signed language are often meant for different audiences, and should be produced with this audience design in mind. Therefore, at Acadeafic a written blog can have a slightly different content than a signed video blog, can highlight different issues or examples, and have a different structure or aim. In this way Acadeafic is different from academic peer-reviewed journals such as the Deaf Studies Digital Journal which seeks full-length contributions of original publications in American Sign Language as the primary language of submission, and only accepts English text as a source text to be translated to American Sign Language.

All our submissions go through peer review conducted by a current board of eight reviewers. Since Acadeafic is not an academic journal we do not engage in cutthroat comments from ‘reviewer 2’. Most suggestions are made with the aim of enhancing readability for the blog’s wider audience, although we may also double-check factual accuracy of certain points or ask for links to supporting information. We hold both modalities by the same standards, so vlogs go through review as well. Here, suggestions are made linked to clarity of signing, signing style, specific concepts, etc.

Most of our posts are based on recently published articles or chapters and we also plan to accommodate series of posts based on special issues or edited volumes. We also have posts based on unpublished work such as dissertations, and we are keen to support junior researchers in promoting their work. We offer a space for opinion pieces or blogs related to (doing) Deaf Studies and sign language research, for example working with sign language interpreters, navigating academia as a deaf scholar, research methodology and ethics, organizing writing retreats, and access to academic discourse. Here as well, we are planning a series about and for deaf PhD students, and one about language learning and language biographies.

We are pleased to collaborate with Multilingual Matters on getting this blog out to a wider audience. We are always soliciting contributions so if you want to promote your work, do get in touch!

If you found this interesting, you might like Maartje’s book (co-edited with Joseph J. Murray and Rachel L. McKee) The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages.

Sign Languages are “Real” Languages and it’s Time to Recognise Them

This month we published The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages edited by Maartje De Meulder, Joseph J. Murray and Rachel L. McKee. In this post, and the accompanying video at the end, the editors explain why this book is so important.

With cover art by Deaf artist, Nancy Rourke

Since the 1990s, when Finland and Uganda were the first countries to give their sign languages legal status in law, many countries have followed suit or are still campaigning to achieve recognition of their national sign language(s) in legislation. Until now, these campaigns and their outcomes have remained understudied: why have deaf communities felt that it was necessary to achieve legal status for their sign languages? How does this status relate to that of spoken languages in a specific country? Who was involved in the campaigns? Were there specific strategies used to achieve certain outcomes? Did the legislation have any effect and if so, what kind of effect? Some of these questions have been discussed in separate journal articles or book chapters, but a comprehensive overview and analysis of these laws and campaigns was lacking until now.

Our new book has partly filled this gap. It appears in a context of increasing interest in sign language rights, both among academics and within deaf community discourses. For example, the theme of the upcoming World Federation of the Deaf conference in Paris will be “Sign Language Rights for All”, Norway is preparing a Language Act and draft legislation for Sign Language of the Netherlands will soon be introduced.

The book contains 18 chapters discussing the situation of diverse countries in Europe, USA, South America and Asia. Chapters discuss how countries achieved legal status for sign language, and the state of implementation. This book does not just focus on sign languages; chapter authors discuss the status of the national sign language(s) in relation to laws and policies for spoken languages, and certain ideologies about languages.

While some chapters discuss very recent sign language laws, other chapters look back and assess impact. Other chapters discuss ongoing campaigns. All together, they illustrate the different ways that sign language laws are implemented and managed by governments and deaf communities. For some countries, this book is the first time that the information is available in English.

The campaigns which are the focus of this book were often led by national deaf associations working in partnership with academics in sign language linguistics or Deaf Studies. Since many of these campaigns took place in the past decade, key activists are still involved, and in the book we have actively encouraged academic/community collaborations. All chapters are joint writing efforts of deaf and hearing academics and language activists active in campaigning, researching, or policy work.

The word ‘recognition’ in the book’s title reveals a unique aspect of campaigns for the legal status of sign languages. In most cases it refers to the ‘recognition’ or acknowledgement by governments that sign languages are languages. This concern about sign languages’ status as ‘real’ tends not to occur with other minority languages and is linked to a long history of sign languages being seen as inferior, not ‘real’ languages.

By now, we know that sign languages are languages and the time has come to focus on what it means to effectively recognize those languages and their speakers. This is also the main take-away message of this book: legal status in itself, while often presented as such, is not a panacea. It’s not an end point, but merely a beginning. It is only one part of the bigger picture that alters the status of a language.

We hope this book helps elucidate the process of the legal recognition of sign languages, shows how this is similar or different from other minority language laws, and guides other countries in their campaigns and reflections about future directions.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Understanding Deaf Culture by Paddy Ladd.

Translanguaging: from a little acorn a mighty oak grows

This month we published New Perspectives on Translanguaging and Education edited by BethAnne Paulsrud, Jenny Rosén, Boglárka Straszer and Åsa Wedin. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and introduce us to the metaphor of the “translanguaging tree”.

Research on translanguaging has often been centred in superdiverse cities and urban spaces. Thus, Dalarna University in Falun, Sweden, may not have come to mind first when exploring new research in the dynamic field of translanguaging as theory and pedagogy ‒ until now! Dalarna University has proven to be the springboard for a collection of innovative international research on translanguaging. How did this happen?

Let us back up a bit! The four of us editors have all been teaching and researching language in education in the Swedish context for many years, focusing on both policy and practice. With approximately 20% of Sweden’s population comprised of immigrants and at least 140 languages spoken by pupils in the compulsory school system, language use in and out of educational contexts is a stimulating field. Our research led us naturally to the concept of translanguaging.

The Translanguaging conference at Dalarna University

Translanguaging offered a new way to explore language ideologies, policies, and processes. After a study visit by Åsa to Canada, where she spent time with Jim Cummins and Thornwood Primary School in Mississauga, the idea of a small workshop on translanguaging grew. While we first imagined that perhaps a dozen or so Swedish researchers would join us in Falun, we soon realized that the thirst for discussing translanguaging as a theoretical and pedagogical concept was great. That informal workshop developed into an international conference, “Translanguaging – practices, skills and pedagogy”, with more than 150 researchers from around 20 countries as well as numerous in-service teachers. Bryn Jones, in his presentation at the conference, aptly described the spread of translanguaging as a useful concept in education research with the metaphor “from a little acorn a mighty oak grows”.

The editors at a writing workshop

The metaphor of the acorn even describes the momentum which followed the conference in Falun. Inspired by the amazing research taking place in different contexts, we knew that a volume was needed to share this surge in the field. With a fantastic group of scholars from seven countries, the volume took shape in record time. For us editors, the period of time from April, 2015, to the present will always be remembered as a blur of texts to read, long editor meetings, contact with fantastic authors spread across the world, and appreciation of the great efforts made by everyone involved in the book. A highlight was a two-day writing workshop in the wintry countryside outside of Stockholm, where all the authors gathered for two days of peer-reviewing and mingling.

Many branches of the ever-growing ‘translanguaging tree’ are represented in our volume. Here are just a few:

  • agency
  • language ideology
  • language policy
  • social justice
  • translanguaging space
  • transliteracy
  • critical views on translanguaging
  • young learners to young adults
  • sign languages
  • national minority languages

Organizing a conference on translanguaging in the small town of Falun in Sweden highlights the fact that linguistic and cultural diversity is part of everyday lives in most places in the world. With the publication of this timely collection, we have made one contribution to tending the flourishing ‘translanguaging tree.’ We hope that the field will continue to thrive, and that future research will benefit from this first volume dedicated to new perspectives of translanguaging in education.

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Translanguaging in Higher Education edited by Catherine M. Mazak and Kevin S. Carroll.