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Deaf linguist drives acceptance of sign language

China Daily

29th March 2021

Deaf linguist drives acceptance of sign language


Hearing-impaired researcher is working hard to eradicate discrimination

With her chant of "Nothing about us, without us", a disability empowerment slogan, Zheng Xuan, a deaf expert on Chinese Sign Language, finds herself almost alone.

For generations, linguistic research into CSL has been dominated by people with unimpaired hearing.

"I am one of a very small number of deaf people in the field," said Zheng, a specialist in deaf education at Beijing Normal University, China's top teacher training college.

In 2016, a Confucius Institute in Minnesota, United States, wanted to recruit deaf Chinese teachers for an exchange program. As someone who could use spoken Mandarin and English and was also a longtime user of CSL, the 40-year-old had no rivals.

The stigma attached to using sign language-a telltale sign of hearing loss-has led many high-achieving deaf people to learn oral languages.

Those who learn to sign are mostly educated at schools for deaf students, where academic curricular are far less hectic than in mainstream schools.

"Society has very low expectations of students who use sign language, and that's a form of discrimination," said Zheng, a member of an expert panel reviewing the CSL dictionary, which explains the presentation of concepts and words in a unified national sign language.

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