National sign language: Venezuelan Sign Language, LSV (Spanish “Lengua de Señas Venezolana”).
How many people use LSV? around 15.000 (?).
Do exist descriptions of LSV? Some grammar studies and basic vocabularies available.
Is the LSV legally recognised? Yes, since 1999.
Are there schools for the deaf in the country? Many. First school: 1935.
Bilingual education for the deaf available? In some schools públicas.
Are there deaf associations? Many. First association: 1950.
Are there certified sign language interpreters? Yes.
UN-Convention and its Protocol already signed and ratified? Only the Protocol has been signed.
In 1989 the phrase "Lengua Señas Venezolana" (Venezuelan Sign Language), LSV, begun to be used to name the national sign language. Prior to that year names like "lenguaje de señas" ("sign language"), "lenguage gestual" (gestural language) and "mímica" (mimic) were commonly applied.
Venezuelan Deaf people usually name their language by means of the sign "Seña" (shown by the drawing at left), mainly colloquially. This sign occurs both as a verb and as a noun.
In more formal contexts (such as conferences, political speeches, etc.), the language is usually named by the letters "LSV" of the finger alphabet (as shown in the pictures below).
The LSV is recognized in the National Constitution since 1999. Two articles are dedicated to this language: The article 81 declares that Venezuelan deaf people have the right of communicating in LSV. The article 101 claims that TV-stations must incorporate subtitles and LSV-interpretation to guarantee the right of hearing-impaired citizens to the information.
According to official data (Census Misión J. Gregorio Hernández, 2008), 29,068 hearing-impaired people live in the country. How many of them use the LSV as a first language is not known. According to Oviedo 2004, approximately 15,000 deaf people use LSV as their first language.
Two sign linguistics research programs are found in the country: the first one, LSV-grammar at the Universidad de Los Andes (Mérida) and the second one, applied linguistics (mostly related to literacy and deaf people) at the Instituto Pedagógico de Caracas (Pedagogical Institute of Caracas).
There are numerous publications on the LSV (an article in Spanish on the development of linguistic descriptions of the LSV up to 2004 can be downloaded as PDF file from this link). At least two corpora of LSV discourse have been collected (in the cities of Mérida and Caracas). A comprehensive study of the language and a basic dictionary do not yet exist. There is also a lack of teaching materials. In internet is possible to find many videos containing LSV-sign vocabularies. None of them has been collected following linguistic criteria.
The LSV has been strongly influenced by the LSE (Spanish Sign Language) because of the history of the deaf education in Venezuela (see below, Chronology). A scientific study of the relationship between these two languages is still to be made.
Venezuela has a strong Deaf movement. The first association was founded in 1950 in Caracas, the capital. Years later a new association was founded in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second largest city. Today there are many Deaf associations in the country. The National Deaf Association is FEVENSOR.
Venezuela is an ordinary member of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD, List of Members, last visit: September 10th, 2013).
before 1935: There are few data available about the history of the deaf before 1935, when the first school for the deaf was founded in Venezuela. Former pupils of that school claimed there was not a deaf community before that year (see Oviedo 2004). Spanish colonial documents (as some laws, for instance), did mention the deaf and their gestures, but always in an individual fashion. From the limited historical data available it is still not possible to speak about a social life among the deaf in Venezuela before that time.
1935: The Venezuelan Institute for the Blind and deaf-mutes (Instituto Venezolano de Ciegos y Sordomudos) opened in Caracas. Shortly thereafter, the blind pupils were separated from the deaf students. For the latter was founded a new institution, the Vocational School for the Deaf-mutes (Escuela Taller de Sordomudos).
1950: That year the Deaf-mute Association from Caracas (Asociación de Sordomudos de Caracas) was founded. Among its first members were former students of the school for the deaf. They organized themselves under the leadership of José Urbano Arquero (see picture left). He was a Spanish Deaf immigrant, born in Madrid in 1914. Before Arquero Urbano emigrated to Venezuela, he had a very active life in the Spanish Deaf community. In Madrid, he held the chair of the local Deaf Association for a while. Arquero Urbano became an almost mythical figure for the Deaf Venezuela. Some of them even claim that Arquero Urbano has brought sign language to Venezuela. A biography (in Spanish) of this Deaf leader is located under this link.
From the year 1950, the Vocational School for the Deaf was conducted by Spanish ninths of the Franciscan Order, who specialized as a teachers of the deaf.
1982: the fiirst publication about the LSV appeared. It was a LSV-vocabulary for the schools of the deaf (Fundaprosordo, 1982).
1985: The Ministry of Education decided to initiate a bilingual model (LSV-Spanish) in all public schools for the deaf in the country.
1987: the first scientific study of the LSV was carried on (Pietrosemoli 1987).
1989: During the "1st Workshop on LSV Linguistics" (I Seminario de Lingüística de la LSV), the name Lengua de Señas Venezolana, LSV, is used for the first time.
1999: The LSV was recognized by the new National Constitution.
Since its foundation in 1935 up to the end of the 1950s, the Vocational School for the Deaf-mutes in Caracas remained the unique deaf school in Venezuela. After that period were created many public and some private schools along the country. At the beginning of the 2000s there were 50 schools for the deaf (47 public schools and 3 private ones) (Oviedo 2004). Before 1985, a strict oral philosophy was pursued in those institutions. After that year, the government decided to introduce the sign language in deaf education. In 1992, the resulting program was gradually neglected because of political changes in the central government. Today there is no single executive for the deaf schools. Students are not usually separated due to their hearing status.
A majority of these schools offers a full range of primary school (up to grade 9). There are some special high-school programs for deaf students. Courses are usually taught by hearing teachers in oral Spanish and simultaneously interpreted into LSV.
In 2005, a pilot deaf education program was opened at the Universidad de Los Andes, in Mérida city. In 2012 the first Deaf students of this group obtained their certificates as teachers.
UN-Convention: Venezuela did not sign the UN-Convention, but the country has recently (on 24-9-2013) signed the Protocol (UN-Enable). Since years, many public institutions in the country are working for overcoming communication barriers for deaf people.
Availability of easy-to-read-texts: no information available.
Accesible media: According to the article 101 of the National Constitution (1999), regulated by the article 4 of the Law "Ley Resorte" (2011), the audiovisual media have the obligation to ensure Spanish subtitles as well as translations in LSV for the Deaf users. This is especially true for news, as well as for cultural and education-oriented programs. Following recent regulations, the media should offer these services before the end of 2014.
Sign language interpreters: Several sign language interpreters are currently working in Venezuela. Some of them have a certification of the national Deaf association (FEVENSOR). There are no formal training for the LSV interpreters. About the payment of interpreters' fees from public funds no information is available to us.
There is a national association of LSV-interpreters, ILSV. (in Spanish. Last visit: September 18th, 2013).
There are numerous papers, academic dissertations and books on the LSV, their users, the deaf culture Venezuela and education for the deaf in the country. A list of these texts can be downloaded here as PDF-file.
Below there is a small selection of texts that are accessible on the Internet:
© Deaf-atlas, 2013