Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Language Policy and Planning for Sign Languages

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Language Policy and Planning for Sign Languages

Article excerpt

Language Policy and Planning for Sign Languages by Timothy Reagan (Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2O1O, 296 pp., hardcover, $85.00, ISBN 1-56368-462-4, 978-1-56368-462-3)

THE AUTHOR OF Language Policy and Planning for Sign Languages addresses two authences: the educated newcomer to the world of signed languages and the member of the Deaf World who is unfamiliar with matters of language planning and policy studies. That is an ambitious goal and will certainly broaden many academic and nonacademic horizons. The academic sign-language person as a potentially interested reader might find the book with its six chapters useful as an introduction to the field.

Chapter 1 presents the history, culture, and sociolinguistic characteristics of the world of signed languages, which Reagan calls a "special case." Since this chapter focuses primarily on the Deaf community of North America, most of the examples and in-depth descriptions refer to ASL.

The second chapter, "Language Planning and Language Policy," shows the author's true strength: It is a concise yet rich and diverse introduction to the subject.The text integrates many approaches and offers theoretical and applied tools to help readers understand the subject.The chapter is cleverly enriched by an impressive collection of real-world examples from around the globe and since the Greek and Roman empires. The fewest cases, though, are from the Deaf World.

Chapter 3 looks at ASL plannning and policy in depth. Reagan criticizes planning decisions that categorize ASL as a "foreign language" as being fundamentally based on deficit views. He also states that access to well-trained interpreters is more important but then differentiates this claim with respect to the educational situation. Reagan's very short summary of the legal status of ASL in the individual states presents the situation as it was four years prior to the publication date (no source is disclosed) and does not explain which laws in what contexts and which exact formulations secure ASL rights. The author wraps up the chapter with observations on the risks the ASL community faces, mainly biotechnical and educational decisions based on biotechnical developments, but ends with a clear statement of trust in the language community's commitment to continue thriving.

Chapter 4 describes the "creation and use of manual sign codes" as a form of language planning. Reagan - as many authors before him - takes a very critical position.

Chapter 5, "International Perspectives," gives an overview of the status of various sign languages and a critical analysis of the contexts and discussions surrounding the legal recognitions. The author discusses a resolution passed by the European Parliament in the same paragraph and with the same care as resolutions passed at academic congresses. To the European reader this seems a dubious juxtaposition because there are numerous such academic and NGO-authored resolutions in European countries, and these differ significantly from resolutions passed by the European Parliament. The Official Journal of the European Union and an NGO's document (e.g., the "Brussels Declaration" by the European Union of the Deaf, which was issued just a few months after this book was published) carry completely different weight in the political arena.

Reagan apparently decided to not include other supranational activities by the European Union, the Council of Europe, and, most important, the United Nations. In most countries of the world the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) presently receives a great deal of attention. The UNCRPD, with its several explicit paragraphs on sign languages and Deaf culture, is a source of optimism and, especially in the work of the World Federatiojn of the Deaf (WFD) and the European Union of the Deaf (EUD), triggers new planning of activities and readjustments of signlanguage policy strategies. The chapter includes a brief discussion of the real threat that ASL poses to many of the world's smaller sign languages and then moves on to corpus planning. …

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