Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Sign Language Planning in the Netherlands between 1980 and 2010

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Sign Language Planning in the Netherlands between 1980 and 2010

Article excerpt

This article discusses several aspects of language planning with respect to Sign Language of the Netherlands, or Nederlandse Gebarentaal (NGT). For nearly thirty years members of the Deaf community, the Dutch Deaf Council (Dovenschap) have been working together with researchers, several organizations in deaf education, and the organization of parents of deaf children (FODOK) to improve Deaf people's accessibility to the hearing society and to change the status of their language. They have also joined forces to implement a sign-language policy that has influenced several areas, such as guidance programs for the parents of deaf children, deaf education, the development of the NGT lexicon, the development of national sign-language (teaching) materials, the introduction of NGT in higher education, interpreter facilities, the status of NGT as a language, and the rights of deaf people as a linguistic minority in the Netherlands.

Language planning can be divided into three subtypes: status planning, corpus planning, and acquisition or educational planning. Status planning refers to all efforts undertaken to change the use and function of a language (or language variety). The recognition (or lack of recognition) of a language as an officiai language is part of status planning. The standardization (a codified form) of a certain language or language variety involving the preparation of a normative grammar and dictionary, as well as the modernization of the lexicon, are all part of corpus planning (Deumert 2001). Acquisition planning involves the teaching and learning of languages. Acquisition planning for second-language learning abroad in spoken languages is often supported and promoted by national institutions such as the Dante Institute (Italian), the Goethe Institute (German), and Maison Descartes (French). In the Netherlands the Dutch Sign Center may be viewed as such an institution to some extent, albeit at the domestic level. Other institutions such as the universities of Utrecht, Nijmegen, and Amsterdam also play an important role in status, corpus, and acquisition planning.

In this article I focus first on the relationship between educational methods and the status of NGT. This is important to our understanding of the history and the process of language planning in the Netherlands with respect to NGT. After that I discuss status planning in relation to the infrastructure, the milestones, and the current situation with respect to the recognition of NGT. Following that I describe aspects of corpus planning: the developments with respect to the NGT lexicon, the standardization of part of the lexicon, and the modernization of the lexicon. Subsequently, I explain the developments with respect to the teaching and learning of NGT and then conclude the article.

The Relationship between Educational Methods and the Status of NGT

Looking back in history we can distinguish four main periods that help to understand the current status of NGT. These four main periods are as follows:

the oral period (1915-1980)

me Total Communication period (1980-1995)

the bilingual period (1995-2004)

the monolingual/bimodal period (2004-present)

From Oral Method via Total Communication to Bilingual Education

Before the oral period deaf people were taught in schools for the deaf that were founded between 1790, when the first such school was established in Groningen by Henri Daniel Guyot, and 1911, when the fifth school for deaf students was founded in Amsterdam. Even though most such schools in the Netherlands banned the use of signs in the classroom right after the resolution of Milan in 1880, the school in St. Michielsgestel continued to use signed Dutch, more specifically called the Van Beek system, until 1915 (Beek 1827). Ironically, this same school would be known for its strict oral policy throughout the world until well into the 1970s.

For almost a century in the Netherlands the main priority in deaf education was for deaf pupils to become - as much as possible - hearing persons. …

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