Deaf Student Plans Thesis in Sign Language

By Yoshida, Naohiro | The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), October 15, 2015 | Go to article overview

Deaf Student Plans Thesis in Sign Language


Yoshida, Naohiro, The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)


A graduate school student, born without the ability to hear, has become the first person in Japan to undertake the challenge of completing a master's degree thesis through sign language instead of by means of written Japanese.

Shinya Kawabata, 36, studying at the Japan College of Social Work in Kiyose, western Tokyo, has been video recording the sign-language thesis for presentation in DVD format to the graduate school. He has been receiving sign-language instruction from Prof. Kurumi Saito, a specialist in linguistics.

Mitsuji Hisamatsu, chief of the secretariat of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf (JDF), points out the challenges students with hearing disabilities face. "Because answers to examinations and theses at a great majority of universities in Japan have to be written in Japanese, those deaf-mute students who are good at sign language but not so good at the Japanese language have been greatly disadvantaged," he said.

Kawabata and Prof. Saito aimed to put sign-language theses on the same level as written ones. In exchanges between the two, Kawabata posed such questions as, "How does one quote part of a thesis written by another researcher?" to which Prof. Saito replied, "When you quote a researcher's thesis for the first time, you should spell out the person's full name and make it clear what page of the thesis you have made the quotation from."

In addition to his hearing disability, Kawabata also identifies as gay. After entering the graduate course of the college in April last year, he has been studying methods of supporting "dual minority" individuals who are both deaf-mute and members of one or more sexual minority groups known collectively as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender).

As the title of his master's thesis, Kawabata has chosen "Support for the deaf LGBT by means of sign language."

In addition to describing the current state of the deaf LGBT community, he is incorporating into his thesis key points for social workers to take into account when giving advice to deaf and LGBT persons. These include "being aware of the existence of people who do not belong to the 'man or woman' categories" and "refraining from communicating via e-mail at times when face-to-face sign language communication is necessary."

Because sign language and the Japanese language differ widely in both vocabulary and grammar, many deaf-mute people find it hard to read and write in Japanese. Kawabata is literate in Japanese to some extent, but has found it difficult to write a master's degree thesis in the language.

Prof. Saito thus came up with a proposal in July that led college authorities to change the rule on graduate school theses and agree to accept "sign-language theses" in addition to ones written in Japanese and English. …

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