Describe, don’t prescribe. The practice and politics of translanguaging in the context of deaf signers.

Maartje De Meulder, Annelies Kusters, Erin Moriarty, Joseph Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In this article we discuss the practice and politics of translanguaging in the context of deaf signers. Applying the translanguaging concept to deaf signers brings a different perspective by focusing on sensorial accessibility. While the sensory orientations of deaf people are at the heart of their translanguaging practices, sensory asymmetries are often not acknowledged in translanguaging theory and research. This has led to a bias in the use of translanguaging in deaf educational settings overlooking existing power disparities conditioning individual languaging choices. We ask whether translanguaging and attending to deaf signers’ fluid language practices is compatible with on-going and necessary efforts to maintain and promote sign languages as named languages. The concept of translanguaging challenges the six decade long project of sign linguistics and by extension Deaf Studies to legitimize the status of sign languages as minority languages. We argue that the minority language paradigm is still useful in finding tools to understand deaf people’s languaging practices and close with a call for closer attention to the level of sensory conditions, and the corresponding sensory politics, in shaping languaging practices. The emancipatory potential of acknowledging deaf people’s translanguaging skills must acknowledge the historical and contemporary contexts constantly conditioning individual languaging choices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)892-906
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2019



  • Deaf
  • access
  • minority languages
  • multimodality
  • senses
  • sign language

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