Invitation to contribute
Special Issue on Ideologies in Sign Language Vitality and Revitalisation
International Journal of the Sociology of Language
Guest editors: Maartje De Meulder and Kristin Snoddon
This thematic issue is inspired by a growing concern about effective language planning and policy strategies that foster the promotion and vitality of sign languages, and by shifting ideologies surrounding the use and maintenance of sSociology of Languageign languages.
Up until now, most sign languages have been absent from endangerment and vitality discourses. This absence is partly due to the supposedly resilient nature of sign languages. For example, language shift to dominant spoken languages may be seen as irrelevant for sign languages because of the belief that due to deaf people’s biological difference, deaf communities will maintain sign languages. The lack of consideration of sign language vitality is further due to ideologies and beliefs within sign language communities and among researchers. Until quite recently, concerns over the endangerment of sign languages were mainly limited to the context of village sign languages and small territorial sign languages for which the maintenance-supporting and maintenance-threatening factors are different than for urban, national sign languages. The framing of deaf people as disabled in public policy has also been a main factor in sign language endangerment.
Demographic and sociolinguistic changes in sign language communities, the widespread normalisation of cochlear implants and the associated monolingual focus on speech, the erosion of inter- and intragenerational transmission settings, the increase of formal learning opportunities, technological innovations, and the wider availability of sign languages all have a profound influence on the future vitality of sign languages, and changing ideologies surrounding this vitality. The concern about this vitality has now come to include long established sign languages in mainly Western nations, some of which are legally recognised and used by larger communities.
However, framing sign languages within vitality and endangerment discourses necessitates critical engagement with the limits and problems of these discourses. For example, there is on-going discussion among scholars about whether sign languages can be described as endangered languages at all, and about the application to sign languages of such concepts as language shift, language decline and revival, linguicide, language maintenance, language (re)vitalisation, intergenerational transmission, etc., which so far have primarily been developed for and applied to the situation of spoken languages. For spoken languages, there is a growing body of literature that problematizes these concepts and interrogates the ideologies underlying them, a movement that is also linked to current theoretical shifts in the field of sociolinguistics and applied linguistics. For sign languages, however, ideologies surrounding vitality and revitalisation have not yet received much academic scrutiny.
By contributing to theory-building and research practice, this special issue aims to more firmly place the vitality and revitalisation of sign languages on the academic research agenda. We welcome empirical case studies and theoretical contributions covering named sign languages (for example village sign languages, regional sign languages, urban and/or national sign languages, International Sign), as well as contributions that go beyond named sign languages. All contributions should discuss ideologies surrounding sign language vitality and revitalisation.