Sign Language Takes First Step Towards Becoming One of Slovenia’s Official Languages

By , 19 Apr 2019, 14:30 PM Lifestyle
Signing "Slovenia" Signing "Slovenia" Screenshot

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STA, 18 April 2019 - The government endorsed the proposal to set down the Slovenian sign language as an official language in the constitution on Thursday, starting the procedure of enabling the Slovenian deaf and hearing-impaired community to fully exercise their basic human rights.

Labour Minister Ksenija Klampfer welcomed the decision, saying that the deaf and hearing-impaired considered the sign language their native language and that its status needed to be regulated.

"Communication and language as well as the right to their use are essential for social inclusion and implementation of the basic human rights. Without communication an individual cannot fully participate in the society," said the minister.

She also pointed out that the decision carried a symbolic meaning, indicating that the government fully respected human rights and minority rights. "The society's development is measured in terms of the rights of the disabled," she added.

The sign language will be thus recognised as one of the official languages in the constitution pending approval by the National Assembly. Simultaneous interpretation of government statements into the sign language has already been standard practice at press conferences.

In case the National Assembly adopts the proposal, Slovenia will join four EU Austria, Hungary, Finland and Portugal, which have already given their sign languages the status of official language.

Entering the sign language into the constitution, the government is expected to recognise it as the native language of the community using it, to formulate and implement the language policies, protecting and developing the language, and to regulate the status of the deaf and hearing-impaired.

The proposal was put forward by the Association of the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired, which believes that the new status of the sign language would provide solutions for educational and employment issues of the community, such as enabling deaf children to be taught in and about their language.

The law on the use of the Slovenian sign language from 2002 gives the children the right to have an interpreter to a limited extent, but it does not grant the language the necessary status.

"Few know that the deaf community in Slovenia is among the least educated, well below the disabled average, but also below the country's average," said the association's representative Matjaž Juhart.

The minister confirmed that the government was considering reforming the law, while the association pointed out that today's endorsement recognised the sign language as equal to other official languages in what is the start of a long process.

The first grammar of the Slovenian sign language is expected this year, with the Culture Ministry earmarking funds for its development. The association has already compiled a dictionary of the language, containing around 16,000 entries.

There are around 1,000 deaf people and some 100 deaf-blind in Slovenia who use the sign language. Some 450 use cochlear implants, while around 75,000 people use a hearing aid.

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