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Language Maintenance and the Deaf Child

JMMD Volume 33, Number 6, ISSN 0143-4632


For all families with deaf children, choosing communication methods is a complex and evolving business. This process is particularly complex for migrant background families, who must not only negotiate the role that speaking or signing will play in their communication practices, but also which spoken language(s) will be used--that of the host society or the heritage language? For many years, it was believed that oral language maintenance was an impossible goal for deaf children. However, recent advances in cochlear implant and hearing aid technology may make language maintenance a more achievable goal. This article reviews the literature and results from a case study of seven migrant background families with deaf children to shed light on the language practices evolving in migrant families with deaf children and the benefits and difficulties inherent in language maintenance with this population. It shows that a number of factors affect the degree to which deaf children are able to develop fluency in the heritage language, such as type of hearing loss and age at cochlear implantation. Regardless of the level of proficiency developed, it shows that attempting language maintenance has a positive effect on family relationships, communication and participation in the ethnic community. (Contains 2 tables and 8 notes.)


Willoughby, L. (2012). Language Maintenance and the Deaf Child. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 33(6), 605-618. Retrieved January 28, 2022 from .

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