Bilingualism and Identity in Hearing-Impaired Teenagers

Article excerpt

This research is the result of two studies carried out with the same sample of deaf adolescents in Catalonia, Spain. The studies dealt with two issues; one investigated bilingualism, defined as a cognitive phenomenon resulting from the coexistence of two oral languages in the same society (Laborda, 1995), and the other investigated identity in deaf students (Cambra, 1994).

The main objective is to determine whether a deaf person's identity (deaf, hearing, or dual-understood as acceptance of the hearing community and the recognition of their deafness) will affect his/her attitude towards second language acquisition. Our hypothesis is that identification with the hearing community will promote a positive attitude towards learning both the oral Li (oral mother tongue) and the L2 (second oral language). Moreover, deaf subjects who have a dual identity will not reject the oral language but will have a less favourable attitude towards learning the L2. Finally, those who identify with the deaf community will have the most negative attitude towards any oral language.

Method The sample consists of ten deaf teenagers, all of whom share the following characteristics: (1) They are pre-linguistically deaf. (2) They have a profound or severe hearing loss. (3) Their ages range from 14 to 18 years old. (4) They have no other associated handicap. (5) They all have used hearing aids since infancy. Hearing aid control is carried out by the speech therapist. (6) They do not use conventional signing. Oral Spanish is their school language. (7) They have been integrated in ordinary schools since first grade. (8) Their families' socio-cultural level is lower middle-class. The results of the interviews in the investigation of bilingualism, and the results of the closed scale (Weinberg and Sterritt, 1986) in the identity research, were compared and analysed.

Results and discussion Collating the results of the studies, we found that 60 per cent of the subjects with the dual-type identity had a neutral or positive attitude towards learning L2 (the second language). However, our initial hypothesis was not borne out by some of the results. We found subjects with the hearing-type identity who nevertheless showed a negative attitude towards L2. Such was also the case with subjects with deaf identity; instead of displaying a negative attitude towards the L2, they were favourable or neutral. …