Before the 1970s, it was difficult to imagine how one could cope with being deaf in Nicaragua. There was no native sign language at the time, making people who were deaf easily isolated from the rest of society. This changed with Javier López, an initiator of Nicaraguan Sign Language. During his childhood in the 60s, he was able to communicate with his father through rudimentary signs that his father helped develop. Later on, however, the media became a proponent in Lopez’s later sign language initiative. In 1977, he saw sign language on an American TV show. Along with some friends and a Costa Rican language guide, they began to create a sign language system they would be able to use. They attempted to create a language based in Costa Rican vocabulary, but found it difficult to speak in a language other than their own. With this challenge, they started anew with making their own native system.
At its simplest level, some may consider a language as a system that commands a use of verbal spoken word and written vocabulary. Then again, this interpretation would exclude languages such as sign language or ones that do not use common verbal communication. Within this language realm, individuals have had to create their own system since one had not been in place when they needed one. On these terms, people were able to witness and shape the foundations of the language to fit their needs.
Throughout the process of this issue, I realized how many diverse interactions and experiences one can have with languages. It can come in the form of a barrier-turned learning experience (Embracing Language), or in a realization that it could be one’s true passion and life-time career (On Learning Languages). Even if one goes to live in or visit a country for other reasons, they acquire a deeper understanding of the languages they interact with (Herzlich Willkommen!). A country’s native language could also serve as a portal to its past, revealing the reasons why their current affairs, relations, and citizens are the way they are (Varied Landscape, One Unifier). Although it is easy to take being able to speak a language for granted, some people’s language may slowly be disappearing from future generations or are no longer widely regarded as useful to use any longer. An example of this widespread phenomenon is pertinent to the language of the Orok people, Orok, which is spoken in the eastern parts of Russia. It currently has only less than 50 speakers, which could mean a loss of the language altogether if nothing is done preserve it. But most importantly, the stories and culture that are understood only through using this language would be inevitably lost.
One should appreciate the complexities of languages and the areas of society that they help explain. If you have some time, learn a new language, or learn the history of a people’s culture through their language system. Preserve the past and consider the future.
(Thank you to Dan Rosenheck for writing about the deaf community in Nicaragua for The Economist and promoting awareness of this important topic.)