Barbara LeMaster, AAA paper


“Anthropological Linguistics

and Deaf Language Policies in the U.S.A. and Ireland:

Public Debates and our Possible Roles”


Saturday, December 1, 1:45--3:00 p.m.,

 Virginia Suite B.

View Outline of paper here






This paper discusses a number of anthropolitical issues regarding Deaf language policies in the United States and Ireland.  In particular, it addresses how, when, and in what contexts language policies emerge regarding the languages and forms of language used by Deaf people.  The paper links language policy issues to the role of language ideologies in historical contexts.  It explores specific language policy controversies which are particular to Deaf communities, and those which are shared with other language minority groups within the U.S. and Ireland. Particular attention is given to anthropolitical language issues that are specific to Deaf people living in the United States or Ireland, and those which may apply to all Deaf groups, attending to patterns which may transcend national boundaries. For example, it considers issues of when a language variety becomes “worthy” of public discussion, or of how Deaf signed languages gain recognition and governmental support, or of how Deaf signed languages become viable commodities for the marketplace.  And lastly, this paper addresses the issue of whether, when, and in what contexts expert opinions are invoked or discounted.  Of particular interest is to explore how the linguistic anthropologist, as a part of the academy, may influence public debates.  It will consider the potential roles for active political engagement by linguistic anthropologists, or by other members of the academy, in the United States and elsewhere, in this case, in the Republic of Ireland.




This paper is not intended to be a finished product – but a work-in-progress.  The idea of posting a written version of our intended oral presentations on a website prior to the meetings is done with the hope that attendees might read them, leading, perhaps, to a richer, fuller discussion at the AAA meetings.


A bit of history by way of introduction


My own work, both pre-academic and academic, has been, in part, on issues of language policy – primarily policies concerning American Sign Language (ASL) and/or Irish Sign Language (ISL).  I have been involved as a policy-maker, a consultant to policy-makers, and a scholar about language policy-making and/or effects of policy.  I have been a RID, Incorporated (RID) certified interpreter for over twenty years.  I worked for the Communicative Skills Program (CSP) at the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) during the time that they were creating teaching tools for teachers of ASL (through the National Consortium of the Training of Sign Language Instructors – NCPTSLI).  Also during that time, the CSP certified ASL teachers through the Instructor Guidance Network (SIGN).  I was also the Executive Secretary of the 1980 National Symposium on Sign Language Research and Teaching (NSSLRT), which involved many discussions of policy issues for the field.  I hung out at the Gallaudet College (Stokoe’s) Sign Language Research Lab with (then) Baker, Cokely, Bienvenue, and others, at the time that the “Green Books” (Baker and Cokely 1980) were written – a very influential set of instructional ASL textbooks.  Informally, a group of Deaf and hearing professional women, all of whom had some role in ASL rights movements, met regularly to hash out our ideas relating to language policy issues. I served as an evaluator of an interpreter training program at Gallaudet College (now University).  Also, on an informal basis, I helped CSU Berkeley establish policies regarding the hiring of sign language interpreters.  I taught one of the first ASL classes at Cal through the Linguistics Department while still an undergraduate student there.  And later on, as a graduate student at UCLA, I was hired to help establish policies and procedures for the hiring of sign language interpreters.  I also Chaired the UCLA University Policies Commission (UPC), which gave me insight and access to influential administrators of the university, as the UPC membership involved high-level administrators, and it reported its findings directly to the President of the University. I have also served as an evaluator for the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc., which gave me insights into their certification gatekeeping mechanisms. I have also served on various Executive Committees, Boards of Directors and Advisory Boards where I have been privy to policy discussions and actions, including those involving language planning and policies.  My doctoral research was on the gendered form of Irish Sign Language (ISL) used within the Republic of Ireland. Gendered ISL is the direct product of language policies at the Dublin deaf gender-segregated residential schools.  This paper will draw from specific language-policy controversies from the U.S. and Ireland presented in an overall framework which may apply to any language minority policy-making process.



Patterns of Minority Language Policy-Making


            Linguistic anthropologists have long been involved with language policy issues, whether implicitly or explicitly through their intimate work with various language communities.  Sometimes they serve as cultural brokers between minority communities and larger systems.  Sometimes their studies inform policymakers and/or language activists/advocates.  And sometimes linguistic anthropologists serve to establish language policy themselves.  However, it is not generally the case that language policy makers seek the advice of, or research produced by linguistic anthropologists in their policymaking processes. We have to ask ourselves why.

As linguistic anthropologists on this panel, we have been asked to both consider how language policy works for minority languages, and what our role has been, or can be as professionals in these language policy-making processes. In essence, as linguistic anthropologists involved with language policy issues, we have to consider the political economy of minority languages in juxtaposition to majority or other minority State-recognized languages (see Jaffe 1999, Gal 1989, Bourdieu 1977, 1999).  Jaffe describes the political economy of language in a quite useful way:

The study of the political economy of language is thus by definition concerned with (1) the process of domination: how, precisely, language is associated with the processes that generate a particular distribution of authority and enable certain groups to exercise domination/hegemony, and the relationship between language and power (Grillo 1989:5); (b) how “deeply held conceptions that mediate between identity and speech” are a “part of political struggles,” and finally; (c) how and whether dominant discourses may be challenged or resisted. These “deeply held conceptions” are language ideologies; they are, as Wollard puts it, “a mediating link between social structures and forms of talk” (Woolard 1992: 235). (in Jaffe 1999:16)

An integral aspect of language policy-making concerns how languages attract notice from policy-makers.  We have to ask ourselves which languages become visible to policy makers (in the sense of State-sponsored, or State-recognized language of which Bourdieu writes).  We have to ask ourselves how and when minority languages emerge as relevant candidates for policy-making.  We have also to ask ourselves who the relevant policy-making gatekeepers are, and about our own role(s) in those gatekeeping processes.


            When considering establishing language policies for signed languages, we must start with recognition of them as a language, let alone worthy of policy formation about them. Drawing from specific language-policy controversies particular to Deaf communities in the U.S. and Ireland, I have come up with six relevant aspects or, possibly stages, of policy formation.  These six aspects of policy formation may be relevant to all minority language policy formations. When we think about language policies, we have also to consider their impact or potential impact on the communities affected.  Would the people affected by these policies approve of them?  Language ideologies are key in these processes. (Of course, as this is a very preliminary draft, I welcome all comments, and relevant citations.)

            Here are the six relevant aspects or stages of policy formation briefly listed.  We will revisit them after addressing some specific examples of American Sign Language (ASL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) and their relevant histories.


1.   When does the minority language get “on the map?”

2.   Getting a foot hold...which method will work, and who can be effective?  Considerations of power and access to institutions.

3.   Once the language is “on the map,” how does it reach the stage of legitimacy where efforts to have it recognized through policy making are even possible?

4.   Using the foot hold...”new” voices can emerge, changes in direction are possible.  Perhaps multiple voices are possible, but most likely, there will be continued restrictions on what can be said and on who can say it.

5.   Authorities and types of resistance from mainstream look-alikes to radical changes.

6.   Policy making and the role of the academic, or the possible roles of linguistic anthropologists in policy making.


The Examples.


Language policy can happen at any level, and in many different contexts.  I am taking examples from the U.S. and Ireland, to exemplify how linguistic anthropologists can be involved in language policy issues.


Two examples from the U.S. involving ASL: 

The first example comes from the struggle to establish a policy about hiring qualified sign language interpreters at a university in the United States. Federal mandates (504 Compliance, and later, ADA) required the university to hire sign language interpreters to ensure equal access to communication by deaf students in the classroom.  While the university was complying with the letter of the law, they were hiring incompetent interpreters at high wages, and quite competent interpreters at low wages.  The university was seemingly unaware of certification processes in place which could guide their selection of qualified interpreters.  Instead, they simply took people at their word and hired anyone who said they were an interpreter. There was no hiring policy in place.


The struggle to go from no policy to a comprehensive policy took over a decade.  At the beginning of the struggle, only two people were involved – a deaf student and the student’s personally hired (though paid through the university) interpreters.  Regular interpreters were low paid, even with degrees and certification, and interpreters hired “off of the street” were typically highly paid, regardless of their skill-level or certification.  A conscious effort by the Graduate Dean to attract highly qualified deaf graduate students to the university brought with it the problem of hiring equally qualified sign language interpreters who could handle a variety of university-level classes (including linguistic anthropology, linguistics, applied linguistics, biological anthropology, physics, theatre, law, engineering, education). Unqualified interpreters hired “off of the street” to interpret these complex and high-level classes were failing at their task.  To combat these problems, a hearing interpreter tried to work with the Office for Students with Disabilities to give them necessary information to hire competent, certified interpreters, however, the office largely ignored this information.  It was only when deaf students complained themselves that it became a potential 504 compliance issue, and the university responded.  When that happened, the university then sought qualified and competent advice, hiring a linguistic anthropologist with a relevant background to help develop the evaluation system, and the policies and procedures for the hiring of sign language interpreters.


The second example involves university acceptance of ASL to satisfy a foreign language requirement for graduate study.  The graduate student was required to submit documents establishing the linguistic viability of ASL.  The student prepared these documents, and submitted them to the appropriate Executive Committee charged with making this decision.  The committee seemingly ignored the documentation, calling the student’s advisor, and asking for his guidance. If he agreed that ASL was a language, then the Committee would grant the student’s request.  If he did not agree that ASL was a language, then the Committee would not grant the student’s request.  The request was granted in this case.  The student happened to be in the Advisor’s office when that telephone call came through, and marveled at how seemingly arbitrarily that language policy decision was made.


Two examples from Ireland.

While this does not involve an overt policy decision, it does involve a decision about language practices.  Up until the summer of 1988, only one person working in the National Association of Deaf People (NADP) in Ireland knew how to sign.  That was the one hearing social worker who spent much of her time on the road visiting people in their homes.  Through a series of cultural and linguistic brokering by a linguistic anthropologist between the Executive Director of the Board of NADP and influential activists/advocates of ISL from the community, the on-site Director and Secretary were replaced with new employees who could sign.  Concurrent with that, NADP also sponsored several language-related projects initiated and executed by deaf people themselves through a concentrated effort by the linguistic anthropologist to put this in place.


 A struggle to establish ISL as the language of Deaf preschools in Ireland has recently been successful.  Just this month (November 2001) a new deaf preschool has been established and located at the boys’ residential deaf school in Dublin, staffed only with deaf teachers who use ISL.  How this came about involves a long history of language identity struggle, and a recognition of Deaf authority in Ireland.


A brief history of these struggles.


About ASL... American Sign Language (ASL) may very well be the third most frequently used language after English and Spanish in the United States. (Some estimates put ASL users in the U.S. at 2.2 million, but some estimates are as low as 500,000 users.  See these websites for more information:

info.html, and Demographics/qxreasl.html, and ethnicharvest.

org/regions/ 50languages.html.   However, ASL is rarely afforded the same linguistic status as other spoken minority languages in the U.S.  It is rarely listed in databases of other minority languages in the U.S.  It is quite curious that there are still struggles over the legitimacy of ASL to satisfy foreign language requirements or field language requirements at some colleges and universities within the U.S. 

At the heart of many language policy struggles concerning American Sign Language (ASL) in the United States are two primary issues:  1) a concern about its linguistic status vis á vis other languages, and 2) a confusion about the autonomy of ASL from the English language.  ASL has been around a long time (Frishberg 1975, Gannon 1981, Groce 1980, Lane 1984a, 1984b, Woodward and Erting 1975).  But before the 1960s, it was one of those minority languages simply used by people who needed it, and largely ignored by linguists or others concerned with minority languages.  The language varieties used in schools for the deaf varied widely, from oralism (speaking and lip-reading English) to fingerspelling every English word to the use of ASL (Lane 1984b).  There were no certified interpreters for deaf people – their family and friends would have to do that for them on a volunteer basis.  There were no ttys (telephone devices) for them, nor captioned movies or TVs.  ASL was around, but not in our collective consciousness.  So how did it become visible enough to attract the attention of policy-makers?

First, it had to be recognized as a language. And this is where academics became instrumental.  The work of William C. Stokoe in 1959/1960 established ASL as a language on par with any known language of the time. This was a particularly difficult task considering that part of the very definition for language was that it had to be spoken (consider Hockett’s features of language).  One study was insufficient to combat years of arguments over the supremacy of the spoken word, so the next few decades of research supported Stokoe’s claim, demonstrating how ASL was on par with any known spoken language.  Yet even though many academics laid out the evidence of the linguistic status of ASL, this idea met resistance from lay people, from some signers themselves, and from (ultimately uninformed) scholars.  Nonetheless, much of the early academic work on ASL focused on its similarity to spoken languages in terms of its linguistic features. 

I believe the first rendition of what later became known as the ‘ABC’ dictionary was written sometime in the 1960s by T.J. O’Rourke, the Director of the Communicative Skills Program (CSP) in the National Association of the Deaf (NAD).  The dictionary was substantially revised by Humphries, Padden, and O’Rourke and published in 1980. The first printing of the revised version of the ‘ABC’ dictionary sold over a quarter of a million copies (Padden, personal communication). The dictionary itself served as a tool of lexical standardization for ASL.

The next task for researchers was to demonstrate how ASL was distinct from English. Many studies ensued which tried to work demonstrate those variations of signing that were true ASL and those which represented some other form of English-influenced signing.  All sorts of labels were given to these variations from SEE (Signing Essential/Exact English), MCE (Manually Coded English), CASE (Conceptually Accurate Signed English), SE (Signed English), through PSE (Pidgin Sign English) to the end-point of ASL.  So much attention was given to pinpointing the differences between ASL and English-influenced signing that variations within ASL were largely ignored during this period. 

The 1980s also brought with it the Disabled Rights Movement, which influenced Deaf scholarship as well.  There were several conferences during the 1980s that only deaf people could attend.  One of the intents of this time was to shift authority about Deaf language and culture issues from hearing people to deaf people.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was finally time to explore more than white, middle-class versions of ASL.  Lucas and Valli (1992) characterized English-influenced sign, and other varieties of signing that were influenced by other languages, as “contact language.”  Other scholars began looking at Deaf American ethnic populations’ signing for possible variations of sign (Aramburo 1989, Davis and Supalla 1975, de García 1975, Lucas and Valli 1992, Lucas 1995, Martinez 1995, Shroyer and Shroyer 1984, Woodward 1973, 1976) And, a dictionary was produced to show various regional lexical variations in ASL (Shroyer and Shroyer 1984). During this period the field of researchers interested in Deaf language and culture issues expanded dramatically. . The academic community went from a relatively small, almost clique-ish highly gate-keeping community to a more typical community of scholars to each other more through their work than by any other means.

Finding a language that refuted earlier definitions of language is quite exciting from an academic viewpoint.  However, what captured the attention of lay people were various legal mandates requiring Federally-funded institutions to provide equal communication access to anyone with a disability.  Public Law 93-112: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act  of 1973 required that jobs, education and services which are provided by agencies and institutions that receive federal funding must be accessible to all persons regardless of disability.  This includes public elementary and high schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, police and fire.  Similar to what happened for AAVE after the Ann Arbor decision (Morgan xxxx, Labov xxxx), with this federal mandate, many U.S. institutions were required to hire sign language interpreters.  For the first time, the State had to take an interest in ASL.  It needed qualified interpreters in order to be in 504 compliance. This led to the need for sign language interpreter training, and to the professionalization of the field, particularly to certifications for interpreters and sign language teachers. With the State needing interpreters, came funding for interpreter training programs, such as the National Interpreter Training Consortium (NITC) of 1976.  The NITC tried to take non-signers, provide them with a intensive summer education in signing and interpreter-skills, and produce beginning interpreters at the end of it.  Many other programs sprang up around this time, too, including training programs for sign language teachers, such as the National Consortium of Programs for the Training of Sign Language Instructors (NCPTSLI), and certifications for teachers, such as the Sign Instructors Guidance Network (SIGN) certification, and meetings among interpreter trainers, such as those through the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT).  Certification of interpreters became a priority as the State sought to hire qualified interpreters to comply with its federal mandate.  As of that federal mandate, ASL went from a very local, private status to a hot commodity. Deaf and hearing people who already had signing skills could market their skills in a variety of ways.  And for the Deaf community, it changed dramatically from a close-knit, almost small-town feeling, to the incorporation of strangers in their midst as non-community members acquired ASL.

In the early years (into the 1980s), it was difficult to learn ASL outside of a Deaf community.  Although many college and university courses advertised the teaching of ASL, what was often taught was some form of English-influenced, contact language.  Afterall, the federal mandate did not change the signing practices of deaf people overnight.  Up until that point, English was the preferred language to use with outsiders to the community.  It was a novelty to have outsiders even know how to sign as many of the early films and writings about Deaf culture and identity demonstrate, and it was within the rules of communicative compentence to switch to contact signing when with outsiders.  However, once outsiders became more frequent and less novel to the community, many community members chose to guard their knowledge of ASL, and to try to prevent outsiders from learning the intricacies of the language.  In this way, they could always know who really belonged to their community, and who didn’t. Yet, with more and more research on the particularities of ASL, guarding access to this language has become increasingly difficult.  And at this point, younger people are not as engaged in this endeavor as they have grown up with outsiders knowing their language.

Artists also took advantage of the rise in interest in ASL, particularly in the 1980s.  Of particular note is the play, then film called “Children of a Lesser God.” The film, and the academy award for Best Actress given to Marlee Matlin (a Deaf actress), brought issues of ASL and oralism to ordinary Americans who were previously unfamiliar with these issues.

My point here is that scholars have been instrumental in providing necessary information about the linguistic and cultural status of ASL and the Deaf community to the State, and others, in its rise from relatively anonymity to a valued commodity. Scholars have been engaged in providing the kind of information needed for language policy-making.  However, even with this great bevy of research, even today, in 2001, scholars outside of this field and lay people still ask the same uninformed questions or still hold the same uninformed assumptions about ASL.  At the heart of each question about the suitability of ASL to satisfy a foreign language requirement, for example, lay the uncertainty that ASL is a language, and a language distinct from English.  These are prime issues for linguists and linguistic anthropologists.



About ISL...Just as ASL was around long before there was a name for it, ISL existed in Ireland long before people addressed it as Irish Sign Language (see Crean 1996, and McDonnell xxxx).  Uncharacteristically of many deaf schools, the Republic of Ireland actually had a language policy at both gender-segregated schools to use sign language for all face-to-face communication.  The primary goal of the schools was to teach deaf children written English so that they could receive the sacraments, and thereby attain eternal life through the rituals of the Catholic Church.  English-influenced signing and ISL were both present at the schools (Crean 1996, O’Dowd 1955, LeMaster 1990). Everyone signed without voices (whether hearing or deaf) for over a hundred years, until the mid-1900s (1946 for girls and 1957 for boys).  The effect of this wide-spread acceptance of sign language ISL was that all deaf adults signed, and had quite good English literacy.  An effect of the strict segregation of the schools (particularly considering that the nuns teaching at the girls’ school were cloistered during this time) was gender distinctions in the signs of school-leavers, such that women and men used largely different signs from each other (Burns 1998; Erting, Johnson, Smith, and Snider 1994; Foran 1979/1996; Matthews 1996; ÓBaoill and Matthews 2000; LeMaster 1990, 1993, 1997, 2000, in press).  The adults generally resolved their gender differences by adopting the male form of signing for all inter-gender communication.  Yet, during this time, ISL was not generally an issue.  Teachers who prepared to teach at the schools when sign was used there would learn it from each other.  It was only when sign became forbidden that it became an issue.  As the schools changed their language policy from the use of sign to the use of oralism, the new generations of deaf adults leaving school did not use the same sign as the previous generations of deaf school-leavers.  This created conflict at the Deaf club where they would all congregate, as “generation gap” took on a new meaning!  (See McDonnell and Saunders 1993.)  The elders felt compelled to help younger signers learn proper signs, as they had in school, and prepared a dictionary for these signers in 1979 (Foran 1979/1996).  The dictionary sought to neutralize the gender differences (to not burden the younger signers with that) by placing one or the other sign in the dictionary, deciding on the sign by committee vote.  Hence, the dictionary produced a combination of signs not-yet used by any one group of people, and was, initially, largely rejected by many.  However, as it was the only dictionary available, it became quite influential as it was used by sign language teachers, consulted by news signers on TV, used by hearing parents of deaf children, by the deaf residential schools in their multiply disabled signing sections, and so on.  The dictionary was largely a grass-roots effort, spear-headed by influential Deaf elders, yet, in cooperation with the National Association for Deaf People (NADP) and Catholic clergy or administrators.  But the divisions among deaf people by age continued to be a problem.  And there was a new problem of decreasing literacy skills among orally-schooled deaf adults.  Deaf people of all ages began complaining to the schools, and elsewhere for more control over their own education.  Yet the power brokers of the time were generally hearing people.  The Chairman of the Board of the NADP was a Barrister (lawyer) at the level of our Supreme Court Justices.  He had quite influential power in Ireland.  The heads of the schools were also hearing, and represented the Catholic Church, as the girls school was taught by Dominican Sisters and the boys’ school was taught by Christian Brothers.  In the Year of the Disabled, in the 1980s, the Irish Deaf Society (IDS) was formed by Stan Foran, Anne Coogan, and other deaf people.   It’s primary goal was to gain an authoritative voice by deaf people in Ireland.  This largely grass-roots organization had few established links to the power structure in Ireland.  It’s leaders were deaf, and did not go experience the kind of education that would link them to the traditional power brokers on par with those chosen to represent them in the NADP.  A struggle between the NADP and the IDS ensued with each claiming the right to represent deaf Irish people.  The IDS, however, put itself on the map (so to speak) by joining the European Union (EU) as the recognized institution of Irish Deaf people, and the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD).  Members of the IDS connected with a powerful Deaf university in the United States, Gallaudet University, and formed alliances there.  There is also an established Fullbright Fellowship and other financial arrangements between the two universities.  Through these kinds of linkages, the IDS grew in power and authority, and gained greater access to political institutions and funding.  As of last year, the IDS has begun to be recognized by the Irish State as well, as it received (rather than the NADP) over 600,000 pounds for work on literacy levels among deaf adults.  It has also just won its battle to have a largely government-funded preschool with deaf teachers using ISL housed at the boys’ school for the deaf in Dublin.  It has also teamed with Trinity College Dublin to help them establish the first Deaf Studies Center, which just hired its first Director this past Fall.  Interpreter training programs and certification is underway, and from the 1980s when there were no certified interpreters, now Ireland has several certified interpreters.  The IDS and the NADP are also primary sponsors of various dictionary and film efforts to document Irish Sign Language.  There continues to be a grass-roots effort to document ISL, with publication through NADP.  Also in the late 1980s, for the first time, Irish Sign Language (ISL) was used on T.V. for an Irish Deaf show.  In the 1990s and into the millenium, the mainstream news is now signed, in small part, by deaf newscasters, furthering the visibility and legitimacy of ISL.  The authority structure has changed from hearing people speaking on behalf of Deaf people to Deaf people speaking for themselves.  Many approaches have been used to achieve this change in recognized authority, including a quite radical approach.

            The role of academics in this debate has been key.  Initially they served as cultural brokers, bringing together community activists/advocates, local academics (linguists), and government officials.  Currently they are providing the research necessary to answer questions about the nature of the language, its variations, and its ties to identity.


Revisiting the language policy process:


1.   When does the minority language get “on the map?”


In order for minority languages to have policies written about them, they have to be visible to policy makers.  This may seem to be a very logical first step in the process, and, perhaps, not even needing to be mentioned.  However, particularly in the case of signed languages of Deaf people, historically it has been a primary concern. Language ideologies (Kroskrity 2000) about Deaf signed languages are continually challenged for their acceptability as bonafide languages, and as autonomous from their contact spoken languages (see also Irvine and Gal 2000).



2.   Getting a foot hold...which method will work, and who can be effective?  Power and Access to institutions.


An apple does not fall far from the tree....  This expression, often used to describe subsequent generations in a family as not changing unrecognizably from the generation before it, perhaps metaphorically characterizes the initial stages of change to existing power and authority structures.  Typically some type of linguistic and cultural brokering is necessary to find the paths which may be used to change ideas and authority structures.  Jaffe (1999) talks about two types of resistances which use existing ideas and structures for new purposes.  The “resistance of reversal” (p. 23) reverses diglossic hierarchies but “doesn’t challenge dominant criteria of value” leading minority language users to judge their own language by dominant standards.  This is comparable to the ‘melting pot theory’ which requires minorities to adhere to dominant standards.  Another type of resistance which uses existing ideas and structures for new purposes is the “resistance of separation” (p. 23).  This keeps the diglossic relationship between languages the same, yet requiring value of separation of the languages, “without challenging the dominant models or criteria of identity  and value”.


In the case of ASL, it first had to be argued that ASL is similar to any other known language to establish its linguistic status before it could be used to gain power and access to institutions.  In the case of ISL, the institutions (schools and Catholic Church) both gave it power and took the power away in the choice of school language policies from the use of sign to the use of oralism.  Currently the struggle over the legitimacy of ISL occurs at the level of standardization of form and its relative status to the English language, rather than at the level of the legitimacy of its existence. 


3.   Once the language is a named entity, recognizable, as it were, how does it reach the stage of legitimacy, where efforts to have it recognized through policymaking are even possible?


In the United States this happened primarily through legislation which ensured equal access to all people with disabilities.  For deaf people, this meant having equal access to communication.  This led to the need for academic information about the linguistic status of ASL, and its relationship to deaf identity.  It also led to certification systems of ASL teachers and interpreters.


In the Republic of Ireland the schools made ISL legitimate, and took away that legitimate status.  Legitimacy was reclaimed through a variety of efforts, primarily grass-roots efforts, through dictionary-making, and membership in highly visible organizations outside of Ireland (e.g.s, EU, Gallaudet University, WFD).  Signing on Irish T.V. further served to legitimize ISL.


4.    Using the foot hold, “new” voices can emerge, changes in direction are possible.  Perhaps multiple voices are possible, but most likely, there will be continued restrictions on what can be said and on who can say it.


In the United States, once there were federal mandates for equal access to communication, requiring certified interpreters, there was also money to be made.  With the commodification of ASL the field grew from a small-knit group of people largely known to each other to a larger group involving strangers. This is true for both academics concerned with sign language and identity studies and for practitioners teaching the language and interpreting skills. For example, scholars who had made their reputation by working on languages other than ASL, turned their attention to ASL, often through the assistance of a Deaf graduate student.  Also, the very early recognized authorities on ‘sign language’ were more typically those who worked with versions of English-influenced sign.  With increased recognition of ASL as a separate language with its own grammar, more radical viewpoints could be, and were entertained.


In Ireland, since ISL had already been sanctioned by schools and was in use by elders in the community, there was a history of approval for its existence by existing authority structures.  Those involved with its maintenance were largely conservatives who worked within the authority structures, resisting in the more within-system ways described by Jaffe’s terms “resistance of reversal” and “resistance of separation.”  With this in place, and with increasing need for qualified and certified sign language interpreters and instructors, more radical viewpoints have been entertained. 


Jaffe’s “radical models of resistance” where dominant assumptions can be challenged emerge most effectively once a ‘foot hold’ for recognition of the legitimacy of the minority language has been gained, usually by more moderate groups.


5. Authorities & types of resistance from mainstream look-alikes to radical changes. 


The struggle toward recognition of a minority language worthy of State support often involves multiple voices, and multiple strategies.  I find Jaffe’s three-part characterizations of types of resistance (‘resistance of reversal,’ ‘resistance of separation,’ and ‘radical models of resistance’) useful in thinking about how minority languages gain this State-supported recognition (even though Jaffe meant her typology to reference her local situation of Corsican/French language). 


What has been curious to me in thinking about how minority languages, particularly signed languages, come to be acceptable for State-supported policies is in how there is often no, or very little room for multiple viewpoints, multiple voices in this process.  Thinking about this simplistically, originally arguments supporting the linguistic legitimacy of ASL HAD to argue its similarity to spoken languages BECAUSE of existing ideas that language had to be spoken to be language.  While there were scholars writing about variations of sign, and how it might differ from some spoken language characteristics, these writings were often dismissed by ASL scholars (the “in-group” anyway), and almost hushed – so that they would not contaminate the argument.  It was only after the linguistic viability of ASL was successfully argued (in academic terms), that scholars could then move on to address distinctions between the true sign languages and their contact forms (e.g., ASL versus English-influenced contact language).  It was sometime later that they could address variations in ASL itself.  Imagine, if this had been done any sooner, funding for programs to teach ASL or to certify teachers and interpreters of THE language could have been compromised.  Radical reformulations of existing language ideologies and structures would jeopardize gains made in State recognition of this form of language. 


Another example of this occurred in Ireland recently.  In their struggle for State recognition of ISL, the issue is not over the linguistic viability of a sign language, but a struggle over WHICH form of sign is acceptable.  The struggle there is similar to our early struggle in the U.S. where the English-influenced contact varieties of sign MUST be distinguished from the ‘pure’ ISL.  There is no room at the moment to talk of situations where contact varieties of sign are acceptable (such as inevitably in the homes of hearing families with a deaf child).  The political message must be ‘ISL in all cases.’  Only scholars and lay people espousing that message are welcomed by the activists and advocates at the moment.  In order to achieve their goals - to implement ISL in the classrooms (not contact signing) and to get assistance in ISL acquisition by parents of deaf children – the message must be uniform.  And while all typologies of resistance are currently practiced, the type that is most successful at the moment is the ‘radical model of resistance’ that rejects dominant values and language ideologies with respect to ISL.


In the United States there is now room for multiple messages, and multiple ‘voices.’  Scholars can write about how ASL differs from spoken languages, and about the many variations of ASL by whatever influencing factors.  They can talk about the kinds of situations in which contact signing may occur, and even be acceptable, and the kinds of situations in which ASL must succeed over contact signing.


6.   Policy making & the role of the academic, or linguistic anthropologist.


Linguists and linguistic anthropologists have already been very influential in language policy matters.  Our work has informed those entrusted with the teaching of language and culture to practitioners.  And it has often been the case that we have been involved as cultural brokers in legislation concerning minority languages of communities where we work. But the public does not think of us as they do other professionals.  For example, when they have legal issues, they call a lawyer; or financial issues, they call a financial advisor; or in real estate, a real estate broker (or lawyer, depending on the state one lives in).  The public does not yet think of consulting linguistic anthropologists whenever they have questions or concerns about language and culture issues. In the places where linguistic anthropologists already work, as with Native American Rights issues, or in more local contexts, they are already often consulted for issues of language policy. However, if we want a greater kind of presence in language policy matters, then we need to market our authority in these matters through marketing our profession and our professional degrees. 




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