The embodiment of conflict. Signing and non signing practices in Dutch elderly deaf people
(Unversity of Amsterdam)
Paper short abstract:
In this visual project two images are shown at the same time: 1. edited interviews with the two main Dutch protagonists in the controversy over the use of Sign Language in deaf education, 2. footage showing the embodied communicative practices of elderly deaf people in signing and non-signing hands.
Paper long abstract:
In most countries in Europe and the US, deaf people were forbidden to use sign language in communication until well into the 20th century. Deaf children grew up having to learn to produce spoken words and 'read lips' in order to acquire spoken language, a strenuous and often futile activity. From the 1960's when linguists showed that sign languages are 'real' languages and not a primitive system of communication, the road was paved for another perspective on deaf people: that of a cultural community. In the Netherlands conflicts between sign language protagonists and those adhering to the so called 'oralist approach' dominated deaf education until the 1980s. Deaf emancipation, the struggle for rights and cultural recognition evolved in tandem, but elderly deaf are caught in between these very different views on deafness. Brought up with the notion that signing was a forbidden and inferior way of expressing oneself, often they still have a biased view on using Dutch Sign Language. Moreover, because of this prohibitive environment, most of them lack the command, fluency and wealth of vocabulary younger deaf signers have. The embodied communicative practices of these elderly thus bear the traces of this conflicted history.
In this project (2016), two images are shown together: one with interviews of the two main Dutch protagonists in the controversy over the use of sign language in deaf education, the other with footage of signing and non-signing hands of elderly deaf people. (length max 20 min.)
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