This dissertation investigates the language development of young deaf children in Flanders in both spoken Dutch and Flemish Sign Language or VGT. In the current context of cochlear implantation this type of research is called for and may have important implications for the lives of deaf children today.
By investigating both the narratives of the hearing mothers and the interaction they establish with their deaf child a picture is painted of the context of culture in which these dyads move and the day-to-day context of situation in which they interact. It will be shown that hearing mothers, but also hearing professionals, are influenced by social discourses concerning deafness and language in such a way that hearing and spoken Dutch predominate in how they talk about their child and his/her deafness and in the way they establish and maintain interaction with him/her. This in turn influences the children’s language development. By age two, the children in the study appear to have developed a delay in both lexical and functional domains. VGT did not constitute a negative factor in the children’s language development and may even form a supporting basis for their entire language potential.
These findings shed light on the dual role of Flemish Sign Language in the lives of deaf children in Flanders today. In the context of culture VGT is undervalued and as a result does not find its way into the education of hearing professionals, the information they provide to parents of deaf children, and the way parents think about deafness and language. In the context of situation, however, VGT proves to be valuable in maintaining a communicative relationship. Thus, the use of Flemish Sign Language in early interaction advances lexical and functional development in spoken Dutch and Flemish Sign Language.