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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). In 2003 the PACE recognised sign languages in their Recommendation 1598 (2003): Protection of sign languages in the member states of the Council of Europe.
The Netherlands has not recognised NGT as a minority language under the Charter for Regional and Minority languages.
In 1997, the government stated that a standardized lexicon was a condition to recognize NGT. This basic lexicon was developed12) After years of seeking recognition, the language was legally recognized as official language by the Dutch Parliament in September 2020 13), which was approved by the Senate on October 13 2020. 14) The law came in force on March 16, 2021.
Before this official legal recognition, there were a few implicit legal recognitions15)16). For example, there is a right to education in NGT and to have sign interpreters, and organizations that do research on NGT receive subsidy. Moreover, there is the establishment of bachelor's-degree programs in NGT teacher and interpreter training17).
TheWet erkenning Nederlandse Gebarentaal (Eng: Law recognition of Dutch Sign Language) came into force on March 16, 2021. The law recognizes NGT and states the language can be used in administrative and legal communication. The law also establishes a Advisory Council, which shall advise to promote the use of NGT in society.
The Wet op expertisecentra (1982) states that the entire school career of 'auditive or communicative handicapped' students should be improved by supportive measures, it also states that students from primary level to tertiary level can be supported by an interperter. Additionaly, the Besluit kerndoelen WEC (Eng: Decree Curricular Targets WEC), signed in 2009, states that NGT can be offered as primary language, and makes bilingual education possible with NGT as primary language and Dutch as secondary language.
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 2012, the wet passend onderwijs (Eng: law for fitted education) is in place, which has the motto “regular where possible, special when needed”18) 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 several schools for the Deaf in the Netherlands:
Siméa is the umbrella organisation for the four educational organisations for cluster 2 schools, wich are schools specialised for pupils who have a linguistic development disorder, who are hearing impaired or deaf.
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 case31).
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 schools32). Another challenge is the increase in number of very young children with a cochlear implant33), 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 34). 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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