Table 1

Language options for deaf children – the controversial issues

OralismSigning/English (written and/or spoken) bilingualism
It is a hearing world. Most, if not all, deaf children can speakOralism can lead to unacceptable failures and delays. ‘The deaf are virtually the only neurologically normal people who make it to adulthood without having acquired a first language’ (Pinker, 1994)
Sign is not a ‘proper’ languageSign has the same structures and mechanisms as spoken languages and is processed in the same area of the brain
Delay in speaking is not importantThe ‘critical period’ for first language acquisition peaks at about 3 years old. Signing allows this to happen on time
Signing will prevent speechThere is no evidence for this belief when bilingual principles are applied to development
Signing will confine a deaf person to a limited lifeDeaf signers have a positive self-identity and the confidence to function in the deaf and hearing worlds