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As Catalan Sign Language is not a spoken language, it does not have a standardised orthography. Although it does not have a standard variety yet1), the Government of Catalonia does provide a basic vocabulary corpus in cooperation with FESOCA, the Federation of Deaf People in Catalonia (Federació d'Associacions de Sords de Catalunya).
Catalan Sign Language is used in the autonomous community of Catalonia in Spain. The main variety is centred around Barcelona, where many influential schools, centres and clubs have been established2) 3). There are four main dialectal areas: Eastern, Central, Coastal and Menorcan4). The latter variety has emerged due to a a small number of signers of LSC on the Balearic island of Menorca, whereas on the neighboring islands of Mallorca and Ibiza (Eivissa), varieties of the Spanish Sign Language (LSE) are used5).
In contrast with the bilingual situation of the hearing community in Catalonia, who uses Catalan and Spanish, there is no prevalent LSC-LSE bilingualism in the Deaf community: signers in Catalonia almost exclusively use LSC6) 7).
The LSC movement is influenced by the current sociopolitical situation of Catalonia, as similar beliefs and ideas are applied by the Catalan Deaf community in the strive for sign language recognition8) 9).
There is no official census for the number of LSC signers. FESOCA estimates that there are around 25.000 users of LSC in the Catalan territory10), of which around 12.000 are deaf signers11).
The Escola Municipal de Sordmuts de Barcelona (Barcelona Municipal School for Deaf-Mutes) was established at the beginning of the 19th century and existed in the brief period between 1800 and 1802. This institution can be considered pioneer work of the education of deaf children in Catalonia12). The establishment of the school was supported by the municipal government of Barcelona (Ajuntament de Barcelona), but not by the Spanish crown, who however gave support to a similar school in Madrid. At the Escola Municipal de Sordmuts de Barcelona, educator Joan Albert Martí used oral instruction methods in order to teach pupils reading and writing13).
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, similar schools were installed outside of Barcelona14). Teaching followed a strictly oralist approach, since the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf held in Milan in 1880 had led to the agreement to solely focus on spoken language and to exclude sign languages from education15) 16). In spite of that, the communication among deaf students at these schools in Catalonia ensured the transmission and continuous use of LSC17).
It was not until the end of the twentieth century that LSC was formally integrated into educational settings18) 19). In 1994, LSC was incorporated into bilingual education processes in regular education and in special schools, and the first LSC language learning materials were created20).
In the school year of 1997/1998, three different educational models for deaf childrens' compulsory education (age three to sixteen) were approved by the Catalan school administration:
Catalan Sign Language is not protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. However, Spain signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, with Article 12.4 providing the protection of “specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture” and Article 24.3.c urging for the education of deaf persons (especially children) “in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual”22).
Protection and recognition of Catalan Sign Language have ocurred on the local and national level.
In 1994, the Catalan Government, influenced by the efforts of FESOCA, passed a “Nonbinding resolution on the promotion and dissemination of sign language knowledge” (Proposició no de llei sobre la promoció i la difusió del coneixement del llenguatge de signes). However, its objectives, such as the adoption of LSC into bilingual education and the promotion of LSC research, fell short in reality23).
The new Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia from 2006 was the first legal recognition of LSC as a language by providing it constitutional recognition within the Catalan autonomous community. Article 50.6 protects, promotes and guarantees the use of LSC: “The public authorities shall guarantee the use of Catalan sign language and conditions of equality for deaf people who choose to use this language, which shall be the subject of education, protection, and respect.”24).
Right after the enactment of the 2006 Statute, the Spanish Courts passed Law 27/2007 ‘By Which Spanish Sign Languages Are Recognised and Means of Support for Spoken Communication by Deaf People Are Regulated’ (Ley 27/2007, de 23 de octubre, por la que se reconocen las lenguas de signos española y se regulan los medios de apoyo a la comunicación oral de las personas sordas, con discapacidad auditiva y sordociegas) on a national level, which recognises the existence of Spanish Sign Language (LSE) and LSC. It acknowledges that LSC is the language used by deaf individuals in Catalonia and that its development was influenced by its geographical, historical and cultural environment. The law only provided regulations for LSE, as the responsibility of regulations for LSC was transferred to the Catalan Government25).
On 3 June 2010, Law 17/2010 on Catalan Sign Language (Llei 17/2010, del 3 de juny, de la llengua de signes catalana) was enacted by the Catalan Parliament. Important regulations of this law include:
The Consell Social de la Llengua de Signes Catalana (Social Council of Catalan Sign Language) is an assessment and consultancy organ which supports the Catalan Government in the following areas:
Although there are some teaching materials edited by the DOMAD (Departament de Documentació i d'Elaboració de Materials Didàctics, i.e., Department of Documentation and Elaboration of Teaching Materials) of FESOCA, most LSC teachers tend to create their own educational materials28).
Some bilingual educational centres employ at least one qualified deaf teacher who is authorised to teach regular subjects and LSC, and give speech therapy (for example in the primary education centres Escola Municipal Tres Pins, Escola Bressol Municipal Forestier and Centre d'Educació Especial Josep Pla in Barcelona). Some of these teachers, however, are employed by multiple schools at the same time. Moreover, some centres collaborate with so-called 'deaf advisers', unqualified individuals with a high proficiency in LSC, whose function is to support the sign language learning process of deaf students and to be their role model29).
At Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), there is a Centre for the Study of LSC called LSC-UPF Actua. This centre is dedicated to the study, teaching, knowledge and transmission of LSC on a global level. Its main objectives include the contribution to the amplification of avilable teaching and learning resources and the participation in training activities30). In terms of resources and training, LSC-UPF Actua is involved in experimental research, the development of new teaching materials, and teaching innovation projects in various areas of LSC and conducts internal and external training sessions at UPF directed at deaf teachers, other professionals from the field, and sign language interpreters31).
Members of FESOCA, the Catalan Association of Families of Deaf Children APANSCE (Associació de famílies d’infants sords de Catalunya), and the collective platform Volem Signar i Escoltar (We Want to Sign and Hear) have expressed the need for more measures guaranteeing educational language rights. The current educational environment is criticised as inaccesible in terms of administration and linguistic support for deaf students in educational institutions at all levels32).The perceived ineffectiveness of LSC education could be attributed to a lack of budget, as the LSC-Law was passed during an economic crisis and no budget has previously been ascribed to the legislations33).
Volem Signar i Escoltar criticised the fact that only four educational centres, among which only one mainstream school, guaranteed LSC interpretation in all school hours in 202034). Besides, associations Volem Signar i Escoltar and APANSCE collected signatures demanding Escola Municipal Tres Pins in Barcelona (Poble Sec) to offer bilingual secondary education. In 2023, there were a total of 19 deaf children enrolled at this school, and for the first time in 30 years, none of them at the pre-school level. The president of Volem Signar i Escoltar, Marian González, criticised the approach of bilingual kindergarten Escola Bressol Municipal Forestier, located in the same area as Tres Pins. According to her, this centre views LSC as a “plan B” for deaf children and does not grant them their full rights to first language education in sign language35).
Members (or guardians) of the Deaf and Deafblind community in Catalonia are allowed the choice of educational modality including bilingual (both oral and signed) or cross-modal educational programmes, in which both LSC and Catalan are used as teaching languages36).
In the school-year of 2019/2020, 185 deaf children in Catalonia were educated in a bilingual education programme, while the rest of the deaf students, approximately 1700 children and young adults, were schooled only through an oral education programme37).
In the school year of 2022/2023, Escola Municipal Tres Pins in Barcelona was the only Catalan school where deaf and hearing students were educated together during the six years of primary education, until reaching secondary education (Educació Secundària Obligatòria/Educación Secundaria Obligatoria, short ESO). ESO needs to be attended by students aged twelve to sixteen. However, in 2022/2023, no educational centre in Catalonia offered the bilingual model at the ESO-level38). Therefore, when moving from primary education to ESO, students either need to opt for special needs centres or mainstream oral language schools.
After completing ESO and moving on to Batxillerat/Bachillerato, the level where the secondary school diploma required for higher education is obtained, deaf students can be accompanied by a LSC interpreter paid for by the Catalan Government39).
In higher education, the presence of sign language is very limited, although interpreters may be available40). Since 2008/2009, the first university BA degree in LSC interpreting has been offered in Barcelona41). A training course for Catalan sign language teaching specialists (LSC) began at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) in September 201742).
Various LSC classes are offered for hearing adults. The language can be studied in associations of the Deaf community, for example in 17 of the 27 associations of the FESOCA. In 2016, 703 people registered for classes at one of these FESOCA centres. Usually, classes are conducted by deaf teachers43).
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