Dozens of manual-gestural “languages” and sign systems are in use in Canada.
The Sign languages of the Deaf are the only true Sign languages and must be given the same status and respect as any other legitimate language.
The natural language of Deaf people is Sign language. In Canada there are two legitimate Sign languages: American Sign Language (ASL) and la Langue des Signes Quebecoise (LSQ); there is also a regional dialect, Maritimes Sign Language (MSL). The capitalized term “Sign language” refers only to these and to the true Deaf languages of other countries (British Sign Language, French Sign Language, etc.)
These Sign languages have been recognized internationally as legitimate languages with their own grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. In the United States, ASL is the third most widely-used language after English and Spanish. A number of Canadian provinces have formally recognized Sign as the language of Deaf people and/or as a language of instruction in the Deaf schools. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also formally recognized Sign languages and confirmed these languages’ rights and protections and equal status to spoken/written languages in the signatory countries, which include Canada.
Several varieties of sign systems (pseudo sign “languages”) have been developed by non-Deaf people, such as Seeing Exact English, Signed English, Cued Speech, Manually Coded English, and others. These are systems rather than languages, because they were artificially invented instead of naturally developed. They deform the true Sign language in order to make it conform to the grammar and syntax of a verbal language (English or French). The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada considers such sign systems to be a form of cultural oppression.
Another “invention” which has been used widely in schools for the Deaf is Total Communication. This is not a language; it is a philosophy or theory of learning. It advocates using any and all methods for teaching children who are deaf: Sign language, sign systems, speech, lipreading, hearing aids, etc. The principle behind Total Communication is to use whatever method best meets the needs and abilities of the deaf child. In practice, however, the method actually used tends to be chosen to meet the teachers’ personal needs which are guided by their own preferences and skills. Since most teachers are non-Deaf, they naturally tend to prefer oral-based methods instead of Sign. Therefore the Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada considers Total Communication to be simply another oral method, and does not support it.
The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada advocates the concept of using whatever method best meets the needs and abilities of the deaf child. We believe that the best method for prelingually deaf and early-deafened children is Sign language, their natural language and the one they learn most easily, comfortably, and naturally. We insist that qualified Deaf teachers must be hired to teach Sign language, just as qualified Francophones are hired to teach the French language in regular schools.
The Sign languages of Deaf people are true languages and must be given the same status and respect as any other language.
Recommended reading: “Are signed languages “real” languages? Evidence from American Sign Language and Langue des Signes Québécoise”, by Laura Ann Petitto. Gallaudet University, 1994.
APPROVED: 3 JULY 2015
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
The Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada
606 – 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1X3