National sign language: Costa Rican Sign Language, LESCO (Spanish “Lengua de Señas Costarricense”).
How many people use LESCO: Information not available.
Do exist descriptions of LESCO? Some grammar papers, a comprehensive grammar study and three dictionaries available.
Is the LESCO legally recognised? Yes, since 2012.
Are there schools for the deaf in the country? Yes, 2. First school: 1940.
Bilingual education for the deaf available? No.
Are there deaf associations? Some. First association: 1974.
Are there certified sign language interpreters? Yes.
UN-Convention and its Protocol already signed and ratified? Yes.
In Costa Rica, according to Woodward (1991), there were at the beginning of the 1990s at least four different sign languages: Old LESCO, New LESCO, Brunca Sign Language and Bribri Sign Language (the last two being used by American native nations). Today the situation reported by Woodward is changed: Some Costa-rican Deaf persons think the Brunca Sign Language could still be used, while the Bribri Sign Language is already extinct (see Ramírez 2013). The Old LESCO is now only used by few people over 60 years and is therefore is difficult to understand for younger Deaf people who are not in regular contact with that language. The New LESCO is the language usually known as LESCO (Spanish "Lengua de Señas Costarricense" ). It is the majority sign language used by the Deaf community in the country. The LESCO is named into the Deaf community by means of the sign shown to the left (Image: A. Oviedo, 2012).
Following figures provided by the Costa Rican government there was in the country, in 2011, 70,709 hearing-impaired and 29,413 speech impaired persons (INEC 2011:79). Figures on the number of the sign language users are, however, not available .
There are several linguistic descriptions of LESCO. The language appears to be close related to ASL. Among other linguistic studies, a comprehensive basic grammar and a basic dictionary of LESCO are available (s. CENAREC-LESCO, site in Spanish).
The LESCO has been officially recognized by a series of laws, in 1996, 2001 and 2012 (see details down, under Chronology).
Priscilla Retana, one of the first linguists working on LESCO-data, offered evidences of the existence of a Deaf community in the capital, San José, at least since the early 1960s (Retana 1993). The first association was, however, established as late as in 1974. There is a national association, ANASCOR (Asociación Nacional de Sordos de Costa Rica), member of the World Federation of the Deaf.
ANASCOR counted in 2008 with 500 members (see WFD & SNAD 2008:38). In the country there are also some other organizations of Deaf people, that have a private character and are not affiliated to ANASCOR.
1940: That year was opened in Guadalupe, a sector of San José, a special school where several deaf children were enrolled. This school exists today and is named after its founder, Fernando Centeno Güell. The school has currently separated departments for every kind of impairment attended. Every department actually functions as an independent school. Deafness constitutes one of such departments.
1960s: A group of Deaf persons met each other regularly in the Central Market of San José (Retana 1993).
1968: On October the 26th was opened a school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (Escuela de Niños Sordos) in the city of Cartago (see Olmo Cordero 2006:20).
1974: The first Deaf Association of the country, the Asociación Deportiva Silenciosa de Costa Rica, is founded.
1979: The Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educación Pública) published a book with vocabulary of local signs (Bravo, 1979), which is today considered as the first dictionary of LESCO.
1992: A second compilation of LESCO´s signs is published at the Universidad de Costa Rica (López 1992).
1996: In this year was passed the law 7600, a law on disability. This law obliges the State of Costa Rica to reduce the communication barriers of deaf people, especially in the education system. This law created a large public to the LESCO.
2001: A new law (Directriz Presidencial) was passed that recognized the LESCO as "official form of communication of deaf people in the country".
2012: A third law, Ley 9.049 was passed, that recognized the LESCO as the "mother tongue of Costa Rican Deaf people".
2013: in juni was finished the project LESCO, a research programm financed by public funds for the linguistic description of this language. The products created are a comprehensive grammar and a dictionary of about 1100 entries.
Since 1940 up to the middle of the 1970s, the oral method dominated the entire curricular activity. In 1974 is introduced the socalled "total communication" in the classrooms, that allowed the use of some gestures accompanying the oral teaching. This situation remained unchanged over the next 25 years.
During the early 2000s changed the pedagogical trend, when the authorities of the Ministry of Education opened up to the idea to allow the use of LESCO in the schools for the deaf. Since then, the number of (hearing) teachers who have a good command of LESCO steadily increases. Some Deaf teachers have been hired in the schools and a bilingual pilot program (LESCO-Spanish) started in the pre-school level at the school for the deaf in San Jose (Oviedo, 2013).
Costa Rica has signed and ratified the UN Convention and its Protocol (s. UN-Enable- auf Englisch. Stand 18.09.2013). The ratification was done through the Law 8861 (Ley 8861 of 2008). The actions to overcome barriers of communication for the deaf (among other aspects of the UN Convention) are coordinated by the National Council for Rehabilitation and Special Education (Consejo Nacional de Educación Especial Rehabilitación), a department of the Costa Rican government.
no information available.
A limited service of close-caption in a public television channel is available (WFD & NSAD 2008:59).
There is a basic program for the training of LESCO-interpreters administrated by PROGRESO, a program of the Pedagogical Faculty, Universidad de Costa Rica. That program also extends certifications for LESCO-interpreters. Under certain circumstances (regulated by law) there exists public funding to cover the service of LESCO-interpreters.
Currently, LESCO-interpreters are organised under ANCITILES, a national association (Asociación Nacional Costarricense de Intérpretes, Traductores e Investigadores en Lenguas de Señas). ANCITILES has recently joined WASLI as official representative of Costa Rica.
There are numerous publications on LESCO, their users, the Deaf-culture and the education for the deaf in the country. A list of these texts can be donwload as a PDF file at this link.
Additionaly, we present below a small selection of studies that are accessible on the web:
This article was originally written in Spanish by Dr. Alejandro Oviedo for the deaf-atlas in November 2013. The text was translated into English by same author.
The Spanish version of the article were kindly corrected by the following team of local experts: Prof. Dr. Carlos Sánchez Avendaño (Linguist, Universidad de Costa Rica), Mag. Christian Ramírez Valerio (Linguist, member of the Costa-rican Deaf community) and Marcela Zúñiga Vega (LESCO-Interpreter, currently President of ANCITILES).
The contents of this article are published under a Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA. That means that they can be only used for non-commercial purposes, mentioning the original source and that the resulting products can be exclusively distributed under the same kind of license.