Recent announcements from Vice President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador have indicated that sign language is to become an official language of the country, with public servants being required to learn basic signs in order to better communicate with hearing-impaired citizens. The move has been praised by the deaf community, not just in Ecuador but in many other countries around the world, with suggestions being raised that other countries should begin to follow suit and acknowledge the special needs of deaf citizens.
Sign language is much more complex and dynamic than many people tend to assume – rather than being a fixed set of codes, it is a continually changing set of languages, with specific signs unique to different parts of the world and even its own ‘slang’ signs. A recent study in Britain looked extensively at the development of sign language for the first time and came across several interesting discoveries, including a lower rate of use of ‘offensive’ signs amongst younger people (in other words, hearing-impaired youth tend to ‘swear’ less than the older generation).
Much of the changes in sign language use in Britain are due to a dropping of racially offensive signs. As the world becomes increasingly globalized and Britain becomes more and more multi-cultural, younger deaf people have dropped many of the prejudices of older generations – and with those prejudices, the offensive signs used to describe racial minorities are being used less and less.
In the USA, there are also encouraging developments in the learning of American Sign Language. Many formal language classes put a ban on using any other language than the one being learned in class – in other words, Spanish language students can only speak Spanish in the classroom. A sign language class at Sultan High in Washington has adopted this focused learning strategy, putting a ban on talking altogether in the classroom, forcing students to speed up their sign language learning in order to communicate with each other. While some of the students struggle with staying silent for so long, they understand the purpose of the no-talking rule and embrace the new learning strategy.