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Discourses of prejudice in the professions: the case of sign languages
  1. Tom Humphries1,
  2. Poorna Kushalnagar2,
  3. Gaurav Mathur3,
  4. Donna Jo Napoli4,
  5. Carol Padden5,
  6. Christian Rathmann6,
  7. Scott Smith7
  1. 1 Emeritus, Education Studies and Department of Communication, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
  2. 2 Department of Psychology, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, USA
  3. 3 Department of Linguistics and Dean, Graduate School and Continuing Studies, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, USA
  4. 4 Department of Linguistics, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, USA
  5. 5 Division of Social Sciences, Department of Communication and Dean, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
  6. 6Section Deaf Studies and Sign Language Interpreting Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, Germany
  7. 7 Office of the President, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Donna Jo Napoli, Department of Linguistics, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA 19081, USA; donnajonapoli{at}


There is no evidence that learning a natural human language is cognitively harmful to children. To the contrary, multilingualism has been argued to be beneficial to all. Nevertheless, many professionals advise the parents of deaf children that their children should not learn a sign language during their early years, despite strong evidence across many research disciplines that sign languages are natural human languages. Their recommendations are based on a combination of misperceptions about (1) the difficulty of learning a sign language, (2) the effects of bilingualism, and particularly bimodalism, (3) the bona fide status of languages that lack a written form, (4) the effects of a sign language on acquiring literacy, (5) the ability of technologies to address the needs of deaf children and (6) the effects that use of a sign language will have on family cohesion. We expose these misperceptions as based in prejudice and urge institutions involved in educating professionals concerned with the healthcare, raising and educating of deaf children to include appropriate information about first language acquisition and the importance of a sign language for deaf children. We further urge such professionals to advise the parents of deaf children properly, which means to strongly advise the introduction of a sign language as soon as hearing loss is detected.

  • Applied and Professional Ethics
  • Disabilities
  • Human Dignity
  • Paediatrics
  • Rights

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  • Contributors All coauthors have made substantial contributions to the conception of this work and to drafting or revising it for content. All gave final approval of the published version and are accountable for all aspects of the work related to accuracy and integrity.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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