Today is International Day of Sign Languages 2023. Today we advocate for a world where deaf people everywhere can sign anywhere! #IWDP #IDSL
Language is indispensable
Language is one of the most fundamental elements of human life. We need language to express ourselves and to communicate to each other. We even need language to think. Without language, life as we know it simply is impossible!
Growing up with a language is obvious, at least for most people. Parents pass their language to their kids, and these kids will acquire this language as their mother tongue. Even if parents use a language that isn’t their mother tongue, their kid’s brains will acquire the offered language perfectly. Our brains are this well equipped for picking up language.
Most people use a language based on sound. However, deaf people and their allies use a visual language: a sign language. The modality of language isn’t important: All languages share the same basic elements, like words or signs, grammar, and tone of voice or facial expression. That’s why any language, spoken or visual, can be used in any circumstance: Small talk about the weather or deep discussions about the meaning of life, politics and education, jokes and making fun, church services and science, poems and other arts, etc, etc.
One thing, we need to keep in mind: Sound is fundamentally inaccessible for deaf people. Even more, most people who are born deaf have no clue about sound, as they have never experienced it.
Of course, spoken languages can be written down, but even written they still are sound based, because letters are representations of sounds. Try to read a text in a space with lots of noise and you will notice that is really hard! That is because we ‘hear’ the words in our heads when reading, and we can’t do that when there is too much noise around us.
To deaf children learning a spoken language is like learning a written course of Chinese or Russian to hearing people. A written course without any sound examples. Only images of how to pronounce words are provided. This is almost equal to madness!
That’s why sign languages are essential for the language development of deaf children. Without sign language deaf children lack access to a language that is 100% accessible for them.
Luckily, learning a new language is much easier if you already know another language. So, if a deaf child knows sign language, they can use that as a solid base to acquire a second, spoken language much easier.
Equal access to communication
The theme of International Day of Sign Languages 2023 is ‘A World Where Deaf People Everywhere Can Sign Anywhere’. Today we acknowledge that what is obvious to hearing people, isn’t obvious to deaf people. We live in a world where hearing people everywhere can speak (almost) anywhere. However, most deaf people still never get access to sign language. And if they do grow up with sign language, they live in a world where the vast majority of people don’t understand sign language at all.
Take a minute to think about what you would miss today, if you couldn’t hear. The social interactions that you couldn’t have. The information you would miss.
Then take a minute to imagine what our society could gain by including the sign languages of deaf people: The beautiful and touching poetry, the unique and visual jokes, and much more!
Maybe you will decide to take a basic sign language course to get acquainted with sign language.