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Concluding remarks

We close this work on sign bilingualism by underscoring the effort of all those involved in the development and provision of sign bilingual education programmes, underlining at the same time the relevance of envisaging a holistic model of language planning that would allow for a better coordination of the actions taken and the information shared along the research-policy-practice axis to promote this particular type of bilingualism. Many of the remaining shortcomings of bilingual education, as we believe, could be overcome by a better alignment of the activities of the different stakeholders involved.

As the acquisition situation of deaf learners continues to be vulnerable to dramatic changes in the socio-political, educational and medical areas, the sophisticated nature of the multilingual competence that becomes apparent in the data of the bilingual deaf signers investigated in this study deserves to be emphasised. All participants in this study are born to hearing parents. Their mastery of DGS clearly is the result of an educational environment that provided them the opportunity to learn and use a language that is fully accessible to them, and hence the language they can use not only to unfold their full expressive potential, as becomes apparent in the narratives collected in this study, but also to manipulate knowledge, a fundamental asset not only in their academic life, but also for their participation in the society at large. While DGS is clearly in the lead in terms of the more advanced knowledge that is acquired earlier in this language than in the oral language, we should not underestimate the participants’ development in their written German. Although the input available in this language is severely limited, and progress in some learners represents a protracted development, the same learning processes that underlie the acquisition of the language in other learner types are at work in their attainment of the target grammar.

In view of the insights obtained about the dynamics of sign bilingualism at the individual and societal levels, we are left with the hope that the line of research we have pursued in this work, cross-disciplinary in perspective, and theoretically founded, is developed further in future studies, contributing not only to a better comprehension of language acquisition and use in deaf individuals but also to the broader endeavour of obtaining a better understanding of how the multilingual potential of the human mind unfolds in interaction with the linguistic environment in other language contact situations.

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