Hopes to Recognize TSL as an Official Language in Taiwan


Beginnings of Taiwan(ese) Sign Language date all the way back to 1895. The origins of TSL developed from Japanese Sign Language during the Japanese rule. And after the retrocession of Taiwan to the ROC, Taiwan took in a group of Chinese sign language users from mainland China who impacted TSL through loanwords and teaching methods.

While sign language has been around in Taiwan for a number of years, deaf education is still relatively new (began in the early 1900s), comparatively to the United States which has been around since the early 1800s.

During my visit to Taipei, I had the honor of sitting down with people from the National Association for the Deaf of ROC (Mike Niu, president; Will Chin, international affairs coordinator; Lei Ouyang, international relationships; and Sheyenne Yjs who studied deaf education at Boston University) who are hoping to increase the amount of and access to deaf education in Taiwan.

Due to the fact that the costs of hearing devices are only covered by the government for those under the age of 18, the access to resources for those who may be over the age of 18 or diagnosed with hearing loss later in life is limited.

Additionally, 80-90% of those diagnosed with a hearing loss before the age of 18 are born to hearing parents, so the only options they (the parents) see are to have their kids fitted for hearing devices and mainstreamed (oral schooling). Because of this, teaching sign language is not always viewed as part of "early treatment". A goal of the NAD ROC is to reverse this.

First, though, is the hope to have TSL (Taiwan Sign Language) recognized as a national language. According to Culture Minister Cheng Li-chiun, TSL is at risk of endangerment. He's also mentioned that if it's recognized as an official language, it is likely to have a better chance of surviving (and aid in supporting language equality among all speakers). As the NAD ROC works to fight for the rights and interests of the deaf, this is of high priority. They believe that once this is achieved, it will be easier for the deaf to be in a position in which they can more fully identify themselves. 

The misunderstanding of the hearing majority in Taiwan about the deaf people has made them (the deaf) feel powerless in societal occasions. If TSL is recognized as a national language, there is potential for this misunderstanding to dwindle and deaf education may be more accepted and recognized.

All of the people I met with, for instance, went to the United States to study because the deaf education opportunities are way more prominent there. Lei says, "The reason I studied in the States is simple. I couldn't learn about deaf history and language in Taiwan. Here (in Taiwan) the hearing ideology is very narrow. People just couldn't see the options outside of the given options." 

This whole exposure to thought and experiences was particularly interesting to me. As someone who was mainstreamed, this whole journey in learning about the deaf/hoh culture has sort of been a reverse and precisely what they are working against, if you will.

I feel very strongly that if TSL is recognized as a national language, it will give people like me, who evolved into this world later in life, an opportunity to learn more about themselves and hopefully find a better sense of identity. If it is not recognized and moves towards endangerment, those of us over the age of 18 in Taiwan may never have an chance to fully learn about their background, and those under the age of 18 may never recognize ALL of their options for communication and a sense of belonging. 

To the NAD ROC, thank you for an incredible experience, teaching me something new, and thank you for fighting for us!

For more information about the NAD ROC, check them out here!