Bimodal bilingualism

Bimodal bilingualism

Bimodal bilingualism refers to an individual or community's bilingual competency in (at least) one spoken language and (at least) one signed language ("spoken" and "signed" are the "modes" to which "bimodal" refers). A substantial number of bimodal bilinguals are Children of Deaf Adults or other hearing people who learn sign language for various reasons). Deaf people as a group have their own sign language and culture, but invariably live within a larger hearing culture with its own spoken language. Thus, "most deaf people are bilingual to some extent in a spoken language in some form" (Ann 2001). In discussions of multilingualism in the United States, bimodal bilingualism and bimodal bilinguals have often not been mentioned or even considered, in part because American Sign Language, the predominant sign language used in the U.S., only began to be acknowledged as a natural language in the 1960s (In discussions of bimodal bilingualism in the U.S., the two languages involved are generally ASL and English). However, bimodal bilinguals share many of the same traits as traditional bilinguals (those with competency in at least two "spoken" languages), as well as differing in some interesting ways, due to the unique characteristics of the Deaf community.

imilarities to spoken language bilingualism

Diverse range of language competency

To be defined as bilingual, an individual need not have perfect fluency or equal skill in both languages (Savic 1996). Bimodal bilinguals, like spoken language bilinguals, exhibit a wide range of language competency in their first and second languages. For Deaf people (the majority of bimodal bilinguals in the U.S.), level of competency in ASL and English may be influenced by factors such as degree of hearing loss, whether the individual is prelingually or post-lingually deaf, style of and language used in their education, and whether the individual comes from a hearing or Deaf family (Lucas & Valli 1992). Regardless of English competency in other areas, no Deaf individual is likely to comprehend English in the same way as a hearing person when others are speaking it because only a small percentage of English phonemes are clearly visible through lip reading. Additionally, many Deaf bilinguals who have fluency in written English choose not to speak it because of the general social unacceptability of their voices, or because they are unable to monitor factors like pitch and volume (Lucas & Valli 1992).

Denial of their own bilingualism

Like hearing spoken language bilinguals, Deaf bimodal bilinguals generally "do not judge themselves to be bilingual" (Grosjean 1992). Whether because they do not believe the signed language to be a legitimate and separate language from the majority spoken language, or because they don't consider themselves sufficiently fluent in one of their languages, denial of one's bilingualism is a common and well-known phenomenon among bilinguals, be they hearing or Deaf (Grosjean 1992).

Everyday shifts along the language mode continuum

Deaf or bimodal bilinguals, in their day-to-day lives, move among and between various points on the language mode continuum depending on the situation and the language competency and skills of those with whom they are interacting. For example, when conversing with a monolingual, all bilinguals will restrict themselves to the language of the individual with whom they’re conversing. However, when interacting with another bilingual, all bilinguals can use a mixture of the two common languages (Grosjean 1992).

Unequal social status of the languages involved

As is the case in many situations of spoken language bilingualism, bimodal bilingualism in the U.S. involves two languages with vastly different social status. ASL has traditionally not even had the status of being considered a legitimate language, and Deaf children have been prevented from learning it through such "methods" as having their hands tied together. Hearing parents of Deaf children have historically been advised not to allow their children to learn ASL, as they were informed it would prevent the acquisition of English. Despite the fact that Deaf children's early exposure to ASL has now been shown to enhance their aptitude for acquiring English competency, the unequal social status of ASL and English, and of signed languages and spoken languages, remains (Davis 1989) (Lucas & Valli 1992).

Differences from spoken language bilingualism

Lack of societal acknowledgment of bilingual community status

Since linguists didn’t recognize ASL as a true language until the second half of the twentieth century, there has been very little acknowledgment of, or attention or study devoted to, the bilingual status of the American Deaf community (Grosjean 1992). Deaf people are often "still seen by many as monolingual in the majority language whereas in fact many are bilingual in that language and in sign" (Grosjean 1992).

Bilingual language mode: "Contact Signing"

Because almost all members of the American Deaf community are to some extent bilingual in ASL and English, it is rare that a Deaf person will find themselves conversing with a person who is monolingual in ASL. Therefore, unless an American Deaf person is communicating with someone who is monolingual in English (the majority language), he or she can expect to be conversing in a "bilingual language mode” (Grosjean 1992). The result of this prolonged bilingual contact and mixing between a sign language and a spoken language is known as Contact Signing (Lucas & Valli 1992).

Unlikelihood of large-scale language shift

Language shift "occurs when speakers in a community give up speaking their language and take up the use of another in its place" (Ann 2001). ASL in particular, and signed languages in general, are undeniably influenced by their close contact with English or other spoken languages, as evidenced by phenomena such as "loan signs" or lexicalized fingerspelling (the signed language equivalent of loanwords), and through the influence of Contact Sign. However, due to the "physical" fact of deafness or hearing loss, d/Deaf people generally cannot acquire and "speak" the majority language in the same way or with the same competency that the hearing population does. Simultaneously, Deaf people still often have a need or desire to learn some form of English in order to communicate with family members and the majority culture (Davis 1989). Thus, Deaf communities and individuals, in contrast to many hearing bilingual communities and individuals, will tend to "remain bilingual throughout their lives and from generation to generation" (Grosjean 1992).

ee also

*American Sign Language
*Child of Deaf Adult
*Contact Sign
*Deaf culture
*Language contact
*Sign language
*Signing Exact English


*Ann, J. (2001). Bilingualism and Language Contact. In C. Lucas (Ed.), The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages (33-60). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
*Bishop, M. & Hicks, S. (2005). Orange Eyes: Bimodal Bilingualism in Hearing Adults from Deaf Families. Sign Language Studies, 5, 2, 188-230.
*Davis, J. (1989). Distinguishing Language Contact Phenomena in ASL Interpretation. In C. Lucas, (Ed.), The Sociolinguistics of the Deaf Community (85-102). New York: Academic Press, Inc.
*Grosjean, F. (1992). The Bilingual and Bicultural Person in the Hearing and Deaf World. Sign Language Studies, 77, 307-320.
*Lucas, C. & Valli, C. (1992). Language Contact in the American Deaf Community. New York: Academic Press, Inc.
*Savic, J. (1996). Code–Switching: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Belgrade: Belgrade University Press.
*Valli, C. & Lucas, C. (1996). Linguistics of American Sign Language. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

External links

* [ A DeafWiki free-content encyclopedia of deaf and hard hearing]
* [ ESL Literacy for a Linguistic Minority: The Deaf Experience. ERIC Digest]

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