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An alternative world!

Let us imagine an alternative world. If our world consisted of a majority of deaf communities, using our hands and eyes would be the first thing that comes to mind while talking about communication. Perhaps we would still develop in the fields of politics, science, arts and technology. Many of us would still earn college degrees and could have a variety of professions. Maybe we would take courses to learn the sign language of the country we would plan to go on a holiday or to study abroad. Long story short, we would likely be doing the same things we are doing now but in a different modality for communication.

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The dominance of a particular way of communicating among populations should not invalidate the lesser used languages. Likewise, it should not define deaf individuals as being “disabled”. If we elaborate on “being disabled” a little bit more, we can see that it refers to the “obstacles” that prevent something from happening. With that in mind, what is disabled of deaf people who communicate via a different language, in a similar manner to English, German or French speaking populations? Many deaf individuals you know, or you will get to know also know a spoken language with varying degrees of proficiencies. Therefore, we want to emphasize the fact that deaf individuals, frequently defined as “disabled”, are actually "differently abled" language users, and many of them are bilinguals of a spoken and a sign language.

 

Therefore, once again we would like to emphasize that  deaf individuals are not “mute” and that sign languages are as expressive as spoken languages. Deaf individuals of the world and of our country should have the same rights as hearing individuals. For instance, they should be able to study in their native language. Think about what might happen if this is a possibility. In fact, let us not just think about it, but take a look at the examples in the world.

Prof. Dr. Carol Padden with a CTSL user (from the fieldwork 2013)

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Prof. Dr. Carol Padden with a CTSL user (from the fieldwork 2013)

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Wouldn't it be just amazing to have a university where both deaf and hearing individuals could study together? Gallaudet University, founded in the United States in 1864, is a pioneering example of this. The university, which provides different levels of higher education in twenty-five different undergraduate majors such as psychology, mathematics, international relations, chemistry and biology, along with a variety of minors, using American Sign Language and written English as the languages of education, plays a significant role in higher education. We should also note there are many deaf academics graduating from many other universities like their hearing fellows. Some of them have already climbed the career ladder up to full professorship. Prof. Carol Padden of University of California, San Diego, is only one of those academics. She visited the CTSL village in 2013. She is communicating with a second generation CTSL signer in the photograph on the left. 

"Deaf. Not mute."

In addition, simultaneous interpretation between a sign and a spoken language pair is efficiently used in a various conferences, seminars and meetings around the world. Thus, deaf community can benefit from these types of activities and academic environments. In the field of sports, there international deaf Olympiad called Deaflympics and a variety of national sport activities led by Turkish Deaf Sports Federation. Besides sport activities, the deaf community can impressively use artistic expression, creating astonishing art works as a result.  Films and theatre in sign languages have sprouted around to world, and they are also appearing on the scene in our country. The examples of such artistic works created by the deaf individuals of our country are called Acı Tatlı Hayat (Bittersweet Life) and Gül Şifresi (Secret of the Rose). We hope that art works of deaf community will continue to be acknowledged both by deaf and hearing communities. Through art, deaf individuals can express themselves creatively and contribute to the society in cultural and artistic terms.

Summing up our journey, sign languages share the same expressive feature found in spoken languages yet they differ in the ways of formation. While home sign is a system emerging by the efforts of a single deaf individual, family sign language is a linguistic product of collective effort by multiple individuals within a single family. Village sign languages, on the other hand, are created by the collective effort of deaf individuals who make up certain percentage in the community they belong in. Although these different types of sign systemsare not as conventionalized and systematic in terms of their grammatical structures as national sign languages such as TID, what we would like to point out is that they are not just random gestures and mimics. As a natural language, they can functionally fulfill the basic requirement of a language, namely the ability to communicate. Therefore, we would like to draw attention to the “mute” component of the frequently used Turkish expression “deaf-mute” and emphasize that individuals using sign language to communicate are “deaf, not mute.”