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Sign language on the agenda

Somewhere in our present, among the details of our lives and our history, there must be a way to the future. (Padden & Humphries 2005:10)

Throughout the preceding sections we have discussed several criteria that are used to distinguish types of bilingualism at the society level. We also learned that languages used in a given social space may differ concerning their status, affecting also the status of their speakers and the political measures that are taken to promote their bilingualism. Turning our attention to sign bilingualism, we are interested to identify its status at the society level. As outlined in the initial sections of this chapter, the identification of the external (social) factors that determine sign bilingualism is a requisite for an appropriate understanding of the development and maintenance of this type of bilingualism. Deaf individuals who use a sign language and an oral language do not live in regionally separate areas. Their bilingualism is not territorial in the sense outlined previously. Yet the languages they use and their attitudes toward their languages are indicators of their identities and social group memberships.

In the course of the last three decades, administrations in several countries have been confronted with questions concerning language planning measures targeting sign languages, such as their legal recognition, their inclusion in deaf students’ education, or the provision of interpretation. For these issues to appear on the agendas of governments throughout the world, grass-roots pressure of deaf associations and related interest groups has been necessary, as is elaborated in the following sections.

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