Culture is simply the way of life of a group of people. The behaviors, values, beliefs, and symbols that they use and consider as a norm. Culture is symbolized by communication that ensures that skills, knowledge values, motives, and attitudes are passed from one person to another or from one generation to another. This way of life is integrated into a pattern that is followed by the group of people. The deaf community has their own set of patterns that are implicit and explicit for the behaviors acquired and transmitted by the symbols and constitute the distinctive achievements of the deaf community. In his poem, Madsen says you have to be Deaf to understand their world (1981). Being deaf has long been considered a disability but for the deaf community, they are just abled differently. Despite, experiencing a lot of ethnocentrism that diminishes their culture they have to uphold their beliefs, values and skills establishing themselves in the world of different cultures.
Thomas (2013) states that a culture has five primary hallmarks that identify and reflect the salient nature of the community. These hallmarks include language, customs, heritage, family or the cultural players and art. The deaf community has similar existing hallmarks that although a little bit different serves to legitimize it as a distinctive culture. They use the sign language as their means of communication. They are known to produce the best art. They have their own specific customs, heritage and a community consisting of the deaf and their sign language interpreters who although can hear are considered a part of them.
Language is the most crucial and most important hallmark in the deaf community. According to Thomas, History traces sign language in America to a Deaf French teacher recruited from France in 1816 by the United States (2013). Thus the roots of the American Sign Language or ASL are in the French sign languages leading to the establishment of visual language schools. But, United Kingdom had a different type of sign language. In Australia, their sign language was introduced by a Deaf Englishman who imported it to the Melbourne deaf school. That is why there is a difference in the two sign languages. Many other sign languages exist in other countries totaling to over 200 distinct ones. More than 100 are listed in the in the Ethnologic database while the rest are in form of dialects, signs, and systems.
However, as the universe continues to become one unit, the sign languages are also becoming intertwined conforming to one universal sign language that will be understood by all in the Deaf community. In the United States, ASL has been recognized as a full-fledged language with its own unique morphology, syntax, phonology and pragmatics which are all distinct from English though it interprets it (Thomas, 2013). The sign language is the primary reason for the perpetuation and existence of the Deaf community. Therefore, through the sign language, the Deaf culture has been accorded increased acceptance and respect from the mainstream society making them a linguistic community.
The Deaf culture has its customs and heritage. Padden and Humphries (2005) say being Deaf and the way they are particular and specific was powerfully shaped by shared heritage. The customs are numerous and practical. They were created in response to needs that rose and might not exist today. Historical accounts of the Deaf community show that due to the many obstacles they faced they had to group together and invent ways of communicating. For instance, the formal and lengthy ritual of leave-taking to symbolize the end of a conversation can be traced to the days when Deaf people had no easy way of keeping in contact with each other. However, modern technology has solved some of this difficulties as there exist things like video phones and text pagers that enable Deaf people to communicate quicker and effectively.
Additionally, they have values, beliefs and behavioral norms. They believe in the power of positive attitude, in fact, they believe that they are not deaf they are just having a difference in human experience in life (Ladd, 2003). They value the use of sign language and all forms of oral languages. Also, they strongly oppose discrimination against them. They like being collectivist rather than individualist. They live as a close-knitted community informing each other of the happening in ones environment and are more direct or blunt in a conversation. They view time differently as they try to show u early in places and show a lot of etiquettes to get attention like negotiating through a signing environment politely (Mindess, 2006).
However, although the family is supposed to pass down cultural patterns, this is not the case for the Deaf people. Most of them have hearing parents and families members that have no experience whatsoever in dealing with the deaf community. Instead, they need to seek cultural players to teach ways of integrating into the world of the deaf as devised by the earlier generations of their Deaf predecessors. Thus, be able to live effectively as deaf individuals. The communication barrier also makes them turn to the Deaf community for information ranging from life, religion, and politics among many others. They act as the second family (Lane et al, 2011) to many Deaf people. Therefore, it is very important that the Deaf people have a culture of their own as well as a community especially todays Deaf youth.
Interestingly, Art has a strong presence in the Deaf community. Many Deaf people struggle with self-esteem and self-control on their own level due to discrimination in the society surrounding them (Jambor, 2005). They deal with ignorance, abuse and the oppressions from the hearing community. Art is the only way they can show their feelings. Thus, Art in the Deaf community is a reflection of their inner feelings. They portray many themes by using ASL, drawings, music and other great arts of performance producing many best and unique art performance in the world.
In conclusion, the Deaf community has definitely developed its culture with all the required pillars surrounding themselves with positivity. They have positioned themselves in learning the meanings, beliefs, values and new ideas of their Deaf culture developing their earlier culture into advanced new levels. Their cultural determinism, therefore, has no limits. Every society member, organizations and the government embrace their culture and supporting them.
Holcomb, T. K. (2013). Introduction to American deaf culture. New York: Oxford University Press. Read more
Jambor, E. (2005). Self-esteem and Coping Strategies among Deaf Students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10(1), 63-81. Doi: 10.1093/deafed
Ladd, P. (2003). Understanding deaf culture: In search of deafhood. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters. Read more
Lane, H. L., Pillard, R., & Hedberg, U. (2011). The people of the eye: Deaf ethnicity and ancestry. New York: Oxford University Press. Read more
Mindess, A. (2006). Reading between the signs: Intercultural communication for sign language interpreters. Boston, MA: Intercultural Press. Read more
Padden, C., & Humphries, T. (2005). Inside deaf culture. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Read more
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