This chapter presents case studies of sign language transmission in European countries in which the majority of inhabitants all speak a Germanic-based language. Owing to space constraints, we are focusing in this chapter on Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands as examples of the past and current practices of language transmission in this part of Europe, but by no means should this overview be interpreted as being inclusive of other countries of the region.
Transmission of the three sign languages of Switzerland
The spoken language situation in Switzerland
Switzerland recognizes four “National Languages,” which are those used by the majority of people in different geographical regions of the country: Eighteen cantons are primarily German-speaking, five French, one Italian, one bilingual French/German and one trilingual canton where German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansh are spoken. “National Languages,” however, have historically not been the same as the “Official Languages,” which are those that can be used legally at the federal level. Romansh, for example, became an official language only in 1996. The “mother tongues” actually spoken by Swiss people in their families and local communities are not necessarily either “national” or “official” languages. “Mother tongue” languages used by a large number of persons on a daily basis include the several regional dialects of “Swiss German” and, as approximately 20 percent of the population living in Switzerland have foreign roots, such languages as Spanish, Portuguese, Serb, Croatian, Albanian and English.