This is a tough question. I’m still not sure why this is the case, but I have some theories and I did a little looking around on the Internet – at YouTube and various blogs.
I think the pivotal point that deaf people are trying to get across when they object to cochlear implants – in children – is the fact that many parents are not teaching their implanted children sign language. There’s a theory among deaf education teachers, professionals, etc. (which may hold merit, don’t get me wrong) that in order to strengthen the child’s communication ability with hearing aids/cochlear implants is that you do not let them use their hands to communicate. Deaf people think a deaf child should be allowed to communicate with their hands.
I have mixed feelings about this. I grew up with an oral-only education and did very well academically – a lot of people will tell you that because the first years are spent teaching the kid to talk, then other areas of study are neglected. I did fine with academics (after many, many tutors). I learned ASL later in life, and I wonder a lot what it would be like if I learned ASL at a young age. But I think that how well a child does academically depends a lot on the parents, the child and the teachers. I think it’s a team effort, and you really got to push for it. Which language, to me is a minor factor in this, but which language can impact the person later in life (such as with emotional development, employment, etc.)
I know that different parts of your brain develop if you use a visual language than if you use a verbal one. With verbal language, Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas of the brain develop. Broca’s is used for language production while Wernicke’s is used for language comprehension. With someone who uses visual languages, the Angular Gyrus in the Occipital Lobe is developed in addition to Broca’s and Wernicke’s. Studies are still being done on this, I believe, but that part of the brain is used for spacial orientation. The Angular Gyrus does not show activation if the child learns ASL after puberty. Another thing that’s interesting is that the Angular Gyrus is located on the right side of the brain, while Wernicke’s and Broca’s are located on the left. We’ve always believe that the left side of the brain is meant for language! Who knew that both sides could work together on this?
I think overall it is a good thing to use more parts of the brain to function in everyday life. The more ways to communicate, the better.
Another thing that’s interesting in all this, is the fact that human beings have memory at six months of age. So they can learn language as early as that age. Verbal language, however, seems to come later than those six months of age. People are finding that a baby can express him or herself using sign language as soon as he or she has a memory! Well, there’s a program called “Baby Sign” which interestingly enough teaches hearing babies how to sign. I went on YouTube and was watching a mom with her nine month old show viewers the baby’s 20 to 30 word vocabulary.
But in concerning adults, I didn’t feel that the deaf community was objecting nearly as much as it does when it comes to children. There was a lot of bitterness on YouTube videos of a child getting activated, but almost none when someone who was in their late teens/early twenties get activated. But then again, the user may have deleted the negative comments. I have seen this on other forums and blogging communities as well. Sometimes there’s the occasional negative person, but I get the feeling that most think that if you want one, then go get one. If you don’t, you don’t – whichever floats your boat. I think this perception of cochlear implants has changed a lot in the last couple of years.
By perception, I mean cultural genocide. I think there’s a theory among deaf people that there’s going to be a cultural genocide because of the lack of children and adults learning sign language. I don’t think this will be the case. I think it will certainly be different. The cochlear implant isn’t for everyone, so the deaf community will retain some of its current characteristics, lose some and gain some new ones. In fact this is already happening, ASL as a language has to change. Because the signing community is so small, it changes often, more often than English does – so keep up! There’s another change that’s causing change to the deaf community – the technology boom. Deaf clubs everywhere are closing down or have closed down. Gone are the days that deaf people go to one place (that they own) to socialize – in comes the Internet, where deaf people can create video logs (known as vlogs), chat on instant messenger and sign on videophones. Information is passed from deaf person to deaf person at a faster rate. We don’t need this one place any more, but interestingly enough I think that the Internet has brought understanding to more and more people who are learning ASL. So in a way, the Internet has brought a proliferation to ASL and many, many options to deaf people. So even those deaf who grow up oral-only, in my opinion, are more likely to come in contact with ASL over the Internet!
Emmorey, K. (2003). The Neural Systems Underlying Sign Language. In M. Marschark & P.E. Spencer (Eds.), Deaf Studies, Language, and Education (pp. 361-376). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
You can also find more information on NeuroScience for Kids.