Saturday, December 07, 2013

Signs of the Times

The first round of results from the census in March have been spitting out of the government statisticians this week. The data has been impressively visualised, but the big surprise was in the language department:
Hindi [is] now the fourth most common language[.]
There was a slight decrease in the percentage of the population who spoke Māori, at 3.7 percent in 2013 compared with 4.1 percent in 2006. Younger people were more likely to speak Māori than older people.

Use of New Zealand Sign Language fell. In 2013, 20,235 people used New Zealand Sign Language, down from 24,087 people in 2006.
I have a theory on why NZSL use is dropping, even as Deaf Culture has become increasingly mainstream over the last decade.

Firstly, the surge in NZers born Deaf due to the Rubella epidemics and other curable ailments of the 20th Century has passed, leading to fewer people born Deaf. Short of another bout of Rubella (possibly caused by Soccer Mums objecting to immunisation), or similar epidemic, the proportion of Natural Born Deaf has shrunk to the usual infinitesimal probability.

Secondly, mainstream schooling has divided and conquered a unified Deaf. While it has naturalised diversity within schools, it islanded the Deaf in the dead sea of Norm Conformity. How does one learn NZSL when you're the only Deaf in the village?

Thirdly, the growth in the Deaf population will increase most in the post-lingual section, through workplace habitat, age or earplug tinnitus. NZSL might be intuitive, but the older one gets, the less brain plasticity there is to learn a new language.