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Public Lecture, Centre for Deaf Studies, Trinity College, Date: 2006/03/28 - 2006/03/28, Location: Dublin, Ireland

Publication date: 2006-01


Vermeerbergen, Myriam


Flemish Sign Language, Language Planning, Status of Flemish Sign Language


If all goes as planned, in two months’ time the Flemish Parliament will vote on the recognition of Flemish Sign Language (Vlaamse Gebarentaal or VGT). This means that very soon now, the signed language used by approximately 6,000 signers living in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium, will have an official status. This recognition illustrates that much has changed vis-à-vis the status of VGT since the first “Signs Conference” in Ghent in 1979, where the use of signs -in the form of Signed Dutch- was promoted for the first time. This presentation will give an overview of the major steps towards this recognition and will focus specifically on the role played by the development of signed language research in this process. Linguistic research on VGT is still quantitatively rather limited; it is only since the beginning of the 1990s that there have been some larger scale studies and, moreover, these have only been carried out by a handful of researchers. Nevertheless, there has always been close contact with the Deaf Community and some years after the beginning of sign language research in Flanders, the Flemish Deaf Community officially declared that they would start promoting VGT rather than Signed Dutch and as such recognized the fact that VGT is a fully-fledged language. This change has had an almost immediate impact on interpreters training programmes as well as on the language courses for adult second language learners. In deaf education the progress towards bilingual-bicultural education has been much slower. In a second part of the presentation, I would like to discuss the impact of corpus planning activities on the lexicon and even the grammar of the language itself. In Flanders the Deaf Community is rather small and in small linguistic communities both corpus and status planning activities seem to have a lot of impact. Sources: Boonen, D., Van Herreweghe, M. & Vermeerbergen, M. 2004. De evolutie van gebarentaal in Vlaanderen. In: Van Herreweghe, M. & Vermeerbergen, M. (Eds) Gent in oktober. Gent: Academia Press/Fevlado-Diversus. Loots, G., Devisé, I., Lichtert, G., Hoebrechts, N., Van De Ginste, C., & De Bruyne, I. 2003. De gemeenschap van doven en slechthorenden in Vlaanderen. Communicatie, taal en verwachtingen omtrent maatschappelijke toegankelijkheid. Gent: Cultuur voor Doven. Van Herreweghe, M. & Vermeerbergen, M. 2004. Flemish Sign Language: Some Risks of Codification. In: Van Herreweghe, M. & Vermeerbergen, M. (Eds). Sociolinguistics in European Deaf Communities. Sociolinguistics In Deaf Communities Vol. 10. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press.