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Turkish Sign Language (TİD) General Info

General information on TID and the Turkish deaf population

Even though TID has a long history dating back to the Ottoman period, there are no scientific or educational materials, grammar books or dictionaries published on TID. The only printed material on the subject is a manual published by the Ministry of Education, and even that is hard to obtain. Furthermore, there is no sign language education at deaf schools in Turkey and in this aspect Turkey is almost 50 years behind many countries. The purpose of this website is to contribute to scientific research and to the education of TID in Turkey.

There are conflicting reports on the number of deaf people in Turkey. According to the UN count, the deaf population in Turkey is around 2,5 million. However according to the 1998 Budget Report of the Turkish Ministry of Education, only 400,000 deaf people are reported. Also, according to this same report, 120,000 of this population consists of children but only 7,000 are enrolled in a school.

Ninety percent of the deaf population, as in many parts of the world, is born to hearing parents. Deaf children who are born to hearing parents cannot learn TID until they are 6 or 7, until they go to a deaf school. In the last 50 years or so there has been only oral education in Turkey and no sign language has been taught to children in these schools. The result is that deaf children who are born to hearing parents learn TID only from their peers. Due to this socio-linguistic situation, there are quite a few variations in the use of sign language and there is less standardization in the individual signs and grammar. For example, there are 7 different deaf schools in Istanbul and there are variations in the use of sign language from school to school. However, in spite of this variation, our research shows that it is possible for sign language users from different parts of Turkey to communicate with each other.

History of TID

Our information about the history of TID is limited since it is a visual language and thus was hard to put in print. Furthermore, any information on TID that might be in historical archives is written in Ottoman Turkish which is not easily accessible to speakers of modern Turkish today. Our information about the historical use of TID is based on the written texts of Europeans who visited the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 18th centuries (Miles, 2000).

According to historical texts, in the period between the 16th and 18th centuries a large group of deaf people was kept in the Ottoman palace for diplomatic and official reasons such as to help officials in secret gatherings. Some historical texts even report that the sultans learned this language and used it as a medium of communication when they addressed the public (Miles 2000). However, according to Miles, there is not enough evidence to prove that this was a fully grammatical sign language or that it was transmitted to new generations born within the same community. It is more likely that new deaf people were brought in as adults from outside of the palace.

It was much later in the Ottoman Empire, in 1902, that a school for the deaf was established (Yildiz Deaf School, in Istanbul) as part of the Westernization process (Deringil, 2002). The opening of this school was followed by a second one in Izmir. There was sign language teaching in these schools along with the use of Turkish. This educational policy lasted till 1953 when the Ministry of Education of the new Turkish Republic banned the use of sign language in the deaf schools to promote oral education. This oral education policy promoted by a German academician supported that the use of sign language would slow down learning an oral language.

Since 1953, there has been no use of sign language in the deaf schools even though there are many deaf schools in Turkey today. New projects and research are trying to re-establish sign education (see "other research " section below) in the deaf schools. As part of these projects, pilot TID teaching has been started by Hasan Dikyuva (hasandikyuva@hotmail.com) , a deaf teacher at Tophane Center for the Disabled in Istanbul and at Goztepe and Karamursel deaf elementary schools (by Elvan Tamyurek, Sule Kibar, Mirac Bayhan & Sinem Dal coordinated by Mary Essex)

The Turkish Federation of the Deaf was founded in 1964 and since then there have been several deaf clubs associated with the Federation that promote communication among the deaf population throughout the country.

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Copyright © 2004 - Aslı Özyürek (Koç University (TR), Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics (NL)), Deniz İlkbaşaran (Concordia University), Engin Arık (Purdue University)
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