Deafness: sign languages and sign systems

Sign language is a purely visual language, a full-fledged language with its own grammar. Signing is quickly understood, which is why sign language is considered a natural language and the native language of the deaf.

Sign language

A deaf child is encouraged to use what he sees and learns his language through visual support. Signing is quickly understood, which is why sign language is considered a natural language and the native language of the deaf.

Sign language is a purely visual language, a full-fledged language with its own grammar. A lot of scientific research is currently being done on this grammar and more and more studies are being published. A few years ago, a higher professional education course for sign language teachers and sign interpreters was started in Utrecht, while research into sign languages is being conducted at various universities.

There are various options for using gestures in the Netherlands. A brief summary:

Dutch Sign Language (NGT)

This is an independent language with its own lexicon, grammar and expressions. It is a full-fledged language with which you can say anything you would like: from a light-hearted conversation to a heated meeting, from deep discussions to poetry. It is a language that arose naturally, not invented and not derived from a spoken language. The NGT has been researched since 1985 at the University of Amsterdam, faculty of General Linguistics, and books about NGT are regularly published.

Just as different spoken languages emerged in different places where people lived, different sign languages also emerged in different places. For example, in the Netherlands, 5 variants of sign languages have emerged around the deaf institutes; These differences are also called dialects.

The deaf community has been striving for years for the NGT to be recognized as a real Dutch language like the Frisian language. In 1988, the European Parliament officially recognized sign languages as the language of the deaf, but the Dutch government has not yet adopted that recognition.

The Dutch Sign Center is working hard to achieve one Dutch Sign Language consisting of standard or preferred signs. These appear on CDs, DVDs, books and on internet sites. These standard signs are also used in the education of deaf children and in sign courses. The dialect signs are simply used in the regions, which is no problem for experienced signers (appendix 9).

Dutch supported with Gestures (NmG)

There is no speaking at NGT. This is the case with Dutch supported with gestures (NmG): the sentence structure and grammar of Dutch are followed, while what is spoken is accompanied by gestures. This is a different language for the deaf: at deaf schools they talk about bilingual education, where the second language is NmG. Communication between hearing and deaf people usually takes place via NmG; The NmG is also used by the suddenly and late deaf and the severely hearing impaired, who can still understand speech sounds with a hearing aid.

Natural gestures

Our communication also involves the use of gestures, which are very self-evident: waving, pointing, silence, gestures for eating and drinking, etc. are understood and used by everyone. These are called natural gestures, the meaning of these gestures can differ per culture and per country.

Manual alphabet

There is a handshape for each letter and after practice you can spell letters with it: fingerspelling is mainly used for names, difficult and new words for which no gesture is yet known. There is also a handshape for each number. These are parts of Sign Language (see appendix 10).

Communication with deafblind people

If, in addition to deafness, one also has poor vision or is blind, this requires adapted communication. Which form one chooses depends on which disability was present first and which alternative communication one has learned.

If the deafness is primary, the alternative forms are four-handed gestures and finger games in the hand. In four-handed sign language, the gestures are made in this way, with the hands of the deaf-blind person being held loosely by the person making the signs. Finger spelling in the hand can be done in different ways: a script letter or a hand alphabet letter or a special tapping code is used.

If the blindness is primary, the Braille alphabet will be learned and communication can be made using a Braille line.

Total Communication (TC)

Total Communication is a form of communication that emerged in the US in the 1970s as an alternative to learning to read speech and speak as the deaf were expected to communicate at that time. This form of communication has also been promoted in the Netherlands and means that all possibilities are used to ensure optimal communication between a hearing and a deaf person. It appeals to the creativity of the hearing person to use, in addition to the use of natural and NGT gestures, also the manual alphabet, speech aberration, written language and facial expressions. It most closely resembles the NmG. The term is currently no longer in use.

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