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Many Ways to Be Deaf: International Variation in Deaf Communities

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The core arguments of this book’s chapters were written before September 11, 2001. This preface was written shortly afterwards. For us, the tragedy of 9–11 makes an international perspective even more important than before, and that perspective is exactly what this book provides. Deaf communities, like all communities, have commonalities and differences. Deaf people in Austria, Japan, and Nigeria are not only Deaf but also Austrian, Japanese, or Nigerian. They live in worlds of sight and gesture within specific national, social, political, and economic systems and, yet, are also part of an international world of Deaf people.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the writings here is how the authors bear witness to the massive changes that have happened in Deaf communities everywhere. Starting in 1880, the dominant mode of education of deaf people was “oralism.” (Notable exceptions include some places in the United States and Ireland.) Deaf children were expected to learn to speak and to understand speech despite the fact that they had little access to spoken language. Although schools for deaf children focused on training children to fit into a hearing world, Deaf adults gathered in cities and towns where they formed their own communities, often based on school ties from childhood, and communicated freely with one another, usually in sign language. In 1960, however, academic views began to change. Research on American Sign Language showed that signed languages’ linguistic properties similar to other languages. Systematic studies of signed languages around the world have shown how every language is both unique and complex and how new languages spring up wherever deaf people have been cut off from other signing groups.

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