“Natural” Language for the Deaf?

Sometimes I see articles and social media posts that imply, or flat-out declare that American Sign Language is deaf children’s “natural” language. This isn’t the case for me, nor for the majority of cuers that I know.

Language isn’t innate, and it doesn’t develop in isolation. Your L1 language is whatever you were consistently exposed to during the critical period of language development. You can also grow up with more than one L1 language simultaneously– that’s not uncommon outside of the United States. In fact, multilingualism’s demonstrable benefits for cognitive function is a big reason why I strongly advocate for learning both Cued Speech and sign language.

That said, as much as I love ASL, it is not my natural language. English is. I grew up with Cued English, and although I used some Signed English, I did not start learning full-fledged ASL until I entered college. I’m not an outlier here; I know several d/hh people who prefer English over sign, or are more fluent in English than sign, or learned English well before they learned sign. In fact, I don’t see very many “pure” ASL users outside of the residential school communities (most likely due to mainstreaming). The majority of d/hh people I know tend to use a mixture of spoken/Signed English and ASL.

This isn’t meant to be a value judgement; it’s just how things turned out. We were exposed to English growing up, so that became our L1 language– not American Sign language.

3 thoughts on ““Natural” Language for the Deaf?

  1. Yeah.. I have seen that many times in my life. However, Some Cuers prefer Cueing alone . That’s fine. There is nothing wrong to Cue alone. Others prefer both Sign and ASL.. That’s fine.. For me, I like Cueing better..Cueing is more easier for me. No offensive. Indeed, you are part of your Deaf Culture because you love ASL. 🙂 I understand…

  2. The big problem here is the inaccurate assumption that all deaf people are alike. They aren’t. I have met deaf children who could not access ASL because of visual and/or spatial processing issues. ASL certainly isn’t a “natural” language for them. Each child is unique and should be treated as such.

    • Yes, you are right that ASL is a natural language ! I agree with you. However , for me ASL is not my natural language . I grew up using Cued Speech since 3 – 4 years old . My native language is English . I embrace my hearing and CI World . I am so proud who I am .. Though . I have a couple of Deaf Culturally friends in my lifetime . I still use ASL with them whenever we visit . That’s all for now ..

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