The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages

By Ceil Lucas | Go to book overview
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Language planning and policy
Timothy Reagan

Language planning refers to deliberate efforts to influence the behavior of others with respect to the acquisition, structure, or functional allocation of their language codes.

Cooper (1989: 45)

by analyzing [the sign system] SEE 2 as an instance of language planning, rather than as a more or less effective tool for teaching English to deaf children, we are forced to consider the broader issues that make SEE 2 and other [Manual Codes for English] controversial and problematic in relation to the complex sociolinguistic situation that surrounds deafness and the minority language community so engendered in the United States.

Ramsey (1989: 144)

What is the correct spelling for a word? What is its correct pronunciation? What does a word mean? What kind of writing system should one use to write a particular language? For speakers of a language like English, which has been standardized for a relatively long period of time, these questions may seem to be relatively straightforward. With only rare exceptions, there are clear-cut answers to questions of these sorts. For the correct spelling, pronunciation and meaning of a word, we rely on a dictionary, which tells us what the socially accepted norms are. As for the writing system to be used, again, we rely on a socially agreed-upon system. Thus, English is written in the Latin alphabet rather than in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is used, for example, for Russian. English could, of course, be written in Cyrillic script–or in Arabic or Hebrew script, or even with Chinese characters. Although every writing system has its own advantages and disadvantages, any language could, in principle, be represented in any kind of orthography, and many languages have been written using different orthographies from time to time. 1

For languages that are standardized, the socially accepted norms have been, at least in part, determined; they are widely shared and generally accepted by speakers of the languages. In societies with standardized languages, we tend to assume that such socially accepted norms are not only necessary and appropriate, but even that they represent the “real” language in some sense. This 145


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