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Dutch Sign Language is spoken in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Suriname.
There are seven dialects in the Netherlands, five of which developed around the original deaf schools in Groningen, Amsterdam, Voorburg/The Hague, Rotterdam, and Sint Michielsgestel/'s-Hertogenbosch 3) 4).
Already in the 18th century, deaf schools were founded in the Netherlands, which provided the opportunity to communicate using sign language. Henri Daniel Guyot founded the first deaf school in the Netherlands in 1790 6): the Guyot Institute in Groningen. Other deaf schools followed in 's-Hertogenbosch (1840), Rotterdam (1853), The Hague (1888), and Amsterdam (1911). Until 1915 sign language was used in education. From 1915 to 1980, the use of Dutch Sign Language was forbidden in all deaf schools 7)8). This oral period was the result of the Resolution of Milan in 1880, where hearing teachers decided it would be better for deaf children to be educated solely in a spoken language. This period ended when the results of deaf education proved to be very disappointing and it was shown that sign languages are true languages 9). The oral period was followed by the Total Communication period, when hearing teachers were learning signs and used Signed Dutch (Nederlands met Gebaren), but not Dutch Sign Language. This was not only due to the lack of materials: most professionals did not consider NGT a true language10). In 1995, this method was replaced by a bilingual approach, because research prompted to favour NGT over NmG. The practice of this bilingual policy varies a lot (see Education in practice).
The European Union has recognized sign languages as languages in 1988 and advised the member states to officially recognize sign languages 11). Since 2003 sign languages are recognized as minority languages in the European Union.
Dutch Sign Language is not recognized by the government of the Netherlands12) 13). In 1997, the government stated that a standardized lexicon was a condition to recognize NGT. This basic lexicon was developed14), but legal recognition has not happened. A private member's bill to recognize NGT legally is currently in progress 15).
Despite the lack of official legal recognition, there are a few implicit legal recognitions16)17). For example, there is a right to education in NGT and to have sign interpreters, and organizations that do research on NGT receive subsidy. The establishment of bachelor's-degree programs in NGT teacher and interpreter training18) can also be seen as a form of recognition.
The Dutch Deaf Council (Dovenschap) has been working with researchers, organizations in deaf education and the organization of parents of deaf children (FODOK) for 30 years to improve deaf people's accessibility to the hearing society, change the status of NGT and implement a sign-language policy.
The Dutch Sign Center can be viewed as a national institution supporting and promoting the teaching and learning of NGT. This is an independent national center funded by the Department of Education for NGT lexicography.
The universities of Utrecht, Nijmegen, and Amsterdam also play an important role in the language planning of Dutch Sign Langauge.
Since 2014, The Netherlands has a so-called law for fitted education (wet passend onderwijs), which has the motto “regular where possible, special when needed” (“Regulier als het kan, speciaal als het moet”) 19). For pupils with hearing problems, this means a Committee of Research will decide, with the advice of school and parents, in which form of education the child will be placed, and for how long.20) There are three options: light, medium and intensive:21)
There are five schools for the Deaf in the Netherlands:
So far, there has been no research on the question whether bilingual education for deaf students gives better learning outcomes than other forms of education. It is known that the proficiency in NGT of deaf children with hearing parents lags behind on that of deaf children with deaf parents, but it is unclear why this is the case29).
Difficulties in the education of NGT are the lack of teaching and testing materials in the language and the small amount of deaf teachers. Also, teachers' level of NGT proficiency is insufficient in many schools30). Another challenge is the increase in number of very young children with a cochlear implant31), since their parents are often advised to use Signed Dutch with their child instead of Dutch Sign Language. As a result, these parents demand hearing teachers who use Signed Dutch or send their child to regular instead of special education.
Although the use of NGT was forbidden in deaf schools in the oral period, people still used it outside of school. This way, the language was not lost, but it did cause regional and even generational differences. More importantly, the status of NGT was greatly affected by the oral period: in that period it was seen as a language inferior to spoken Dutch 32). The return of Dutch Sign Language in education has certainly added to the prestige of the language, showing people that NGT is a true language. Generally, users of NGT no longer feel ashamed to use their mother tongue.
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