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Thursday, July 5, 2012

An Amelioration of Audism in Japan

Many books of scholarship contain introductions that describe the content,  explicate the book's theme and the concepts that are developed to illustrate that theme.  Diversity in Japanese Culture and Language edited by John C. Maher and Gaynor Macdonald contains such an introduction.

 According to the introduction, this anthology deals with how difference is problematic in Japanese culture.  The editors state that Japanese cultural institutions can cope more easily with the presence of foreign otherness. It is far more problematic when there are Japanese who exhibit traits or behavior that differs from the majority.    The essay I found most illuminating is "The Deaf and Their Language--Progress Toward Equality" by Noboyuki Honna and Mihoko Kato.

I am aware of the difficulties that deaf Americans who communicate via ASL have had with recognition of the legitimacy of their language in deaf education and in society at large.  I discussed this issue in my June post on this blog "Discrimination Against The Deaf: Then and Now".  More recently, I added a postscript about the use of the term "audism" to that post.  Please see that postscript for my research on the definition of audism and how it has evolved.

Noboyuki Honna and Mihoko Kato reveal the structure of Japanese Sign Language (JSL) in an effort to show that it is a separate language.  I was especially fascinated to discover that there is more than one type of sign language in Japan.  As a result of my online research, I have learned that  JSL is a family of sign languages with regional variants that Japanese deaf individuals use to communicate with each other. Historically, interpreters have used a different form of sign language at an event to simultaneously convey spoken Japanese to deaf individuals while it is being spoken.  The sign language that interpreters have used  parallels the structure of spoken Japanese.  Wikipedia calls this Manually Signed Japanese.  JSL is structurally different from spoken Japanese.  The article in this 1995 book implies that it's impossible to use JSL in interpretation because of its differences from spoken Japanese.  I think it likely that such a view is an example of audism.  I found a 2002 article by Karen Nakamura in which she states that JSL is more similar to Japanese than ASL is to English.  Apparently, in the 21st century using JSL for interpreting spoken Japanese is no longer considered so impossible.  Many interpreters in Japan now use it.

The Wikipedia article on JSL discusses the increasing interest in JSL by hearing people including the wife of the Emperor's second son known as Kiko Princess Akishino.  I think it likely that her prominence has influenced Japanese society to view JSL more favorably.

Here are the resources that I consulted in my research for this post:

Wikipedia on Japanese Sign Language

Wikipedia on Kiko, Princess Akishino

About Japanese Sign Language by Karen Nakamura

Karen Nakamura has also written a book on JSL which I found on Goodreads at:

Deaf in Japan: Signing and the Politics of Identity

I will need to read Nakamura's book in order to have a deeper understanding of the deaf community in Japan and the role of JSL within Japanese society as a whole.



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