LINGUIST List 2.623

Tue 08 Oct 1991

Disc: On Becoming Bilingual

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Query: Bilingual education of deaf children
  2. , query regarding bilingual children

Message 1: Query: Bilingual education of deaf children

Date: 01 Oct 91 14:49:21 EST
From: <>
Subject: Query: Bilingual education of deaf children
The following request about bilingual education of deaf children
was sent to me by a friend in the Basque Country. If any of you
out there can provide any feedback it will be greatly
appreciated. Or if you know of someone who does not subscribe to
this list who could contribute please do pass this on to him or
I became painfully aware of the problem presented here when i
spent a few weeks in Lizartza last year, a small 100% Basque
speaking town in Gipuzkoa. The only time i heard anyone speak
Spanish there was when they had to speak to a teenage deaf girl
who lives there. I'm sure she would appreciate your help.
You can reply directly to the address below or e-mail to me at or
Jon Aske
Dukumentazio eta Ikerketa Zentroa
Center for Ducuments and Studies
Reina Regente 5, bajo
Aptdo. 667
10003 Donostia-San Sebastian
Voice: (43) 42 36 56
Fax: (43) 29 30 07
In the last few years a tendency has surfaced with relation to
the education of deaf children which has two main
1. Giving priority to verbal communication, since this gives
 greater possibilities of social integration.
2. Integration into regular schools, since early contacts with
 non-handicapped individuals is a prerequisite for the
 acquisition of the spoken language.
Sign language is actually banned in practice--some years ago
children were forcefully repressed so that the spoken language
would be used--since teachers don't know it and it is most
definitely not taught in the school medium. Although there are
no follow-up studies, it is safe to say that it is not until deaf
people leave school that they retreat to their own clubs and
learn sign language on their own.
In the [Spanish] Basque Country everyone speaks Castilian
(Spanish), which was the only official language until some
fifteen years ago. Next to Catilian, the Basque language
[Euskara] continued to exist side by side in a diglossic
situation, being spoken by one fourth of the population [with
varying demographic densities]. Basque has become a legal
language of instruction only in the last fifteen years.
At present efforts are being made, some more successful than
others, for the recuperation [or at least to halt the decline] of
Basque, which is now co-official with Spanish and must be studied
in school [much like a foreign language] in even all-Spanish
Traditionally, special education has taken place in Spanish, even
when the student comes from a Basque family background (i.e. one
in which Basque is the natural and probably only language used
for communication). This is due to two factors:
1. It is hard enough for the handicapped child to learn one
 language, and thus the introduction of another language
 would complicate matters unnecessarily.
2. Since only one language must be chosen it makes sense to opt
 for the most cost-effective one, i.e. Spanish.
After Basque was introduced in the Spanish-speaking schools as an
obligatory subject, the question came up about the difficulties
that this entails for the deaf student. Some experts proposes to
exempt the deaf student from such a requirement so that harm is
not done to his or her progress in Spanish, precarious as it
already is.
Another group of experts argues on the other hand that this
policy deprives the deaf student of the right of learning to
utilize a second language.
We at the Center for Documentation and Studies would like to
contribute to the maximum rationality of the debate that is being
carried on by providing documentation about the subject and the
opinion of experts from as widespread a background as possible.
The questions that we would like to center on are the following:
1. Can it be said that in general a deaf child is not capable
 of learning two (spoken) languages?
2. If the answer to question 1 is that it depends on the
 capabilities of the child, which are the most appropriate
 instruments for measuring that capability so as to ascertain
 the optimal time to introduce the second language?
3. Does the fact that a child has poor language skills mean
 that he or she is not "ready"/"prepared" for being
 introduced to another language? Could it mean that progress
 is not likely to be made in the first language and that
 insisting in using only one language deprives the studying
 of the possibility of learning another language, even if it
 is to a similar limited level?
We are very interested in any feedback that we can get on this
difficult question. We are mostly interested in collecting as
much material (references, bibliography, etc.) as possible, but
we are also willing to consider hiring an expert to provide us
with a comprehensive background study adapted to our situation.
Thank you for your help.
Ramon Saizarbitoria Zabaleta
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Message 2: query regarding bilingual children

Date: Thu, 3 Oct 91 11:52 CDT
From: <>
Subject: query regarding bilingual children
Along with many people, I can attest to the fact that children
can become bilingual by being exposed to the native language
at home and the other language elsewhere. ( I hesitate to
single out either language at 'native' in this case actually.)
My 12-year old son, who's a bilingual speaker of Turkish and
English is a good example. He was born and raised in Minnesota.
We speak Turkish at home almost exclusively; he learned English
at school, day-care, from friends, etc. He had a slow start
in both languages (only observations; no quantified data un
unfortunately), but then progressed just fine.
Feride Erku
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