Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Should we get rid of small d in Deaf?

Play Quicktime


Transcript: The topic about small d and big D for Deaf bothers me. I don't know about you but I have mixed feelings because it splits the group into two as those who are labeled as small d and big D.

According to Deaf in America, Voices from a Culture, I am raising a question if the idea is outdated. Why? In 1972, James Woodward proposed “to use the lowercase deaf when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, and the uppercase Deaf when referring to a particular group of deaf people who share a language – ASL and a culture.”

~From Deaf in America, Voices from a Culture

I used to think that way before as I had studied about it back in the 80's. At that time, most people seemed to agree about the concept. But now my thinking about it has changed. Why? I have several reasons to get rid of small d/big D concept but still keep the big D only. Why?

Even a person who don’t identify themselves as a Deaf person and is not immersed in ASL and Deaf culture call themselves alternatively such as hearing impaired, hard of hearing or a person with a hearing loss as they avoided labeling themselves deaf which is their decision so why should we continue to use small d? What should we do with a small d in Deaf? Just get rid of it! But continue to use big D. Why? Here are several justifications.

Must we know the language? Yes, it is important but allow me to present the points. People, in general, who belong to their ethnic groups like Italian, African, etc. do not use small i in Italian, nor small a in African although not all of them know the language or even culture especially here in America but we still refer them with a capital I in Italian-American or an A in African-American. I am Italian but I don’t know the language so should I call myself small i? Heck, no because it doesn’t work that way. So why should it be different for the Deaf?

The big D in Deaf is used regardless of not having full understanding of ASL or Deaf culture. They will continue to go through a process experiencing what we call Deafhood. They will get to that point. Let's say when they finally get to the meat of ASL and Deaf culture, then they "graduated" to earn a big D? No! Deafhood is a process. That's why this kind of thinking is considered new that caused me to question whether or not that topic in the book is considered outdated.

Do you think that no, we should keep on labeling small d and big D or keep the big D for all regardless of not having the knowledge of ASL and culture and that big D represents a cultural group anyway. So tell me what do you think?


Deaf Dixie said...

wow good vlog... Good point... agree with you 100 percent... Im Deaf and not deaf but D.... didnt think about that but you bring it up and hit me so hard and think hard...

Anonymous said...

Hello Barb!

Pah....So good to have me to post yours since you were on the plane with Aidan....I see that you guys were in the trouble in the tub! ;-)

I agree with your views about the d-eaf vs. Deaf.

Will post yours tomorrow morning when I smell my favorite coffee.

*gulp* from Starbucks....

Hugs as always!

White Ghost

Carl Schroeder said...

I'd retreat to the world of glosses. Instead of writing deaf or Deaf, I'd write in a gloss that best describe me: DEAF. Lawyers use latin terms and phrases. We can do the same. Here comes the DEAF guy! You're my favorite DEAF gal!

Jon Savage said...

response in video

John Egbert said...

Hi Barb,

Sometimes when I write, I am not sure whether to use small d or caps D certain reason.

Now I will use caps D all the time.

Proudly Deaf,

michele said...


You bring up an interesting viewpoint.

Can we call ourselves "Deaf Americans" just like other ethnic groups. We could follow the proper way of labeling people like the Jews, the Hispanics, the Deaf but there is one slight problem, we cannot use "s" for Deaf (Deafs) as this is not proper grammar usage, so we need to come up with a way of calling ourselves using the Deafies? Is that proper? I don't know.

Good analysis you have there Barb!

Deb Ann said...

I like the way you look at the words as Deaf and deaf..How interesting! I think Deaf/deafie are too much sensible to use for a word to describe.
I am on your side and I think every one is to be called, "Deaf" ,because they once are identifed as deaf no matter where they are from, and there is no big deal about their personal choice(to use cued-speech, PSE, or ASL). We all are one.

Deb Ann said...

I, myself, personally love ASL. I can't really judge their personal choice.

cnkatz said...

Hi -

Contemplating, arguing, and agreeing on usage of terminology ties deeply into identity politics, especially on the level of describing what the community members should use to denote themselves. How one preferred to be called is a clearly self-identity process. Yes, deafhood process. In my blogsites I play around with dD usage even thinking of creating a font with dD to denote all, and lower for this upper for that. Yes, we can chunk out the lower and call ourselves upper. Go D! for those proud being deaf. But there are scores out there who differs.

We can also look at deafhood at two (or more) levels - as an individual and as a collective group. The discussion here has shown the evolving nature of the deafhood of the deaf community. I want to see a lot more vblog postings like what Barb has been doing here. Let's see those in the ivory tower respond? Administrators?

Let's butt-head on this dD issue, and many others - all part of arguing everything dDeaf. Blog technology is a wonderful gift for the deaf community, still in its early stage. Come on, vblog more!!! Those deaf people in the ivory tower - come on.

Good job Barb.

Anonymous said...


Good vlog as always. :o)

Personally, it is more of a matter of being mentally & culturally Deaf. To me, that means to be free of self-audism, and to be free of low self-esteem as a Deaf person.

For that reason, deaf people that do not proudly identify themselves as Deaf, people that do not sign their own language, people that deny their own heritage... They are all a part of the hearing community, not the Deaf community.

Therefore, it is necessary to have a small 'd' and a big 'D'. It is a means of identifying those that are brainwashed with audism versus those that are not.

Do people say "I'm Hearing", with a capital "H"? No, because they are a part of society at large. They call themselves Americans... And the definition "hearing" has no meaning to them.

Therefore, a deaf person that does not identify with other Deaf people... Runs their lives in accordance to cultural rules of the hearing community. Therefore, they are "deaf Americans".

Those that do follow Deaf cultural rules- that includes speaking the language of the culture... Which is ASL... And adheres to the Deaf lifestyle should be called "Deaf Americans"- to identify them as a member of a culture.

A culture requires language, art, history, beliefs, and the such. But the biggest way a person identifies someone as a member of another culture is the language they speak.

A hearing Frenchman in America would not be identified as such until hearing people hear him speak and hear the accent in their voices. At that point, it would be known that the gentleman is French, and visiting.

Apply the same concept to Deaf people. When a non-cultural deaf person visits a Deaf club... THEY ARE VISITING.

Erick K

deafk said...

Hi, Barb,

You presented a very good veiw!! As always!! Thanks for bringing it up.

I am a Deaf American!


Jaymie said...

Hello there :-)

This is an interesting topic to discuss. I have mixed feelings about it. As an educator, and scholar, I can understand why we use the lower-case 'd' when referring to degrees of hearing loss (medical term) and upper-case 'D' when referring to the people involved in the community. If you were writing a thesis about people with hearing loss and nothing about the community, would you use upper-case 'D' in that case? I wouldn't. If you were talking about a community of people with hearing loss, whether or not if they are involved in the culture, would you use upper-case 'D'? I would. It just depends on how we use the term.

However, I'm not sure when is the exact appropriate time when a person is considered a part of the community. If a person (with a hearing loss of an X degree) grew up in hearing schools, never learned sign language, got a cochlear implant, refused to be identified with those who sign or march down the Capitol building on ASL International Day, would you call that person a capital 'D' deaf? I'm not sure. I really don't think so. I think the label relates to the degree of involvement in the community. However, like Jon Savage said if a person has the right attitude and willingness to be a part of the community, but is very new to the language and culture, do we consider them a captial 'D' deaf? I would, yes. They may never have gone to Gallaudet, but has the heart and desire to learn about the culture. Hmm... You brought up a very good discussion, but I also think it is a hot one that people may differ in opinion. It will be interesting to watch this discussion evolve. Smile.

David A. Martin said...


LaRonda said...

Hey there, Barb!

Great topic. I had so much to say in my response that I had to stop. I decided I will vlog about it! It's such a good discussion to have in light of the word "Deafhood" and the journey that we are on.

Look for my vlog post in response soon.


~ LaRonda

Deep Ears said...

It's better to say "hearing level", instead of "hearing loss."

Judge said...

Hi Barb,

A M E N :)

So I have something to bring up.....

I am Indian! I am Englander! I am Deaf! I am New Yorker.

Indian? My dad was born in India and he has given me some India culture to grow up.

Englander? My mom was born in London and I grew up visiting relatives and learned their culture.

Deaf? Obvious!

NewYorker? I lived in Rochester NY and does that qualify me as a New Yorker??

You tell me.


Anonymous said...

I've always felt small d is audist in nature.

You made a good point, so, yeah we should stop labeling in that way.

From what I understood, many deaf from deaf family are tend to be considered a big D whereas those who are not well connected in the deaf world is small d. And those who work so hard to belong to this special group of Deaf, eventually becomes D and oppresses those who continues to be d. tsk tsk

Thanks for bringing up a good discussion. I think I will use Big D for every deaf individuals from now on.

I want to add something, it is possible for a hard of hearing person to say he is Deaf, but technically, he is hard of hearing. :)

Jean Boutcher said...

Hi Barb,

We have to re-examine books all the time. We could debunk or update old books. We would have to first look at the linguistic rules of each and every country. For example: a big letter is not used in Europe. Let us see.

France -- small "f" for français and française (person and language).
España (Spain) -- small "e" for española, espoñala (person and langauge).
Italia (Italy) -- small "i" for italiano, italiana (person and language)
Deutschland (Germany) small "d" -- deutsch (person and language)
USA, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand use a big letter for person and for language.

Who is wrong to use a small letter? And why?
Who is right to use a small letter? And why?

We have learned at Galladuet that people that have been exposed to American Sign Language and Deaf culture in a residential school for the deaf are members of a linguistic minority.

Additionally, Sociologist Dr. Richard C. Eckart proclaims Deaf culturally people to be members of an ethnicity in his dissertation, "Deafnicity" (University of Wisconsin, 2005). He has also observed that some people are not really 100% cultrually Deaf. They are somewhat d--|--D.

I am not a linguist, but I can take the liberty to say after having travelled around the world many times for over 30 years that an italiano or an españolo will always be an italiano or españolo whether he speaks his native language well or not.


The problem is that there are some people out there who do not want to be identified as "Deaf." For example, they would not join the NAD until the NAD adds "Hard-of-Hearing" to the NAD (NADHH).

(Note: Not only did Dr. James Woodward coin "d" and "D". He also coined "PSE". This is a misnomer. The correct term is "Signed English." That is why it is imperative that books written 20, 30 years ago should be analysed and upheld.

Molly said...

This is the first time I've visited your blog/vlog, but the title on DeafRead jumped out at me. While I understand the academic purposes for defining deaf and Deaf differently such as to indicate a medical or physical hearing level versus a culture, I felt that that terminology applied to people was divisive. I was never able to put my finger on what bothered me about it until I saw your vlog. I think there is enough divisiveness in the Deaf community, and to use one unifying term for the people in the community is part of the process of Deafhood.

As another justification for the use of capital "D" Deaf to refer to a group of people comes from the practice of using certain words (uncapitalized) to refer to entities used by a culture (an oriental rug for instance), but we don't call Asian people "Oriental." We could seperate Deaf and deaf similarly (i.e. a medical journal might say "the level of deafness" refering to a state but say "Deaf-Americans" when refering to the patients). Basically, always use Deaf as the politically correct way to refer to people (regardless of where they are in the process of Deafhood). Besides, like you said, you can't evaluate someones process of Deafhood any more than you can evaluate how Irish-American they are. So why not just use terminology that creates equality. Loved your point! Very provocative post!

Deaf Socrate'sTrail said...

Yes, all Deaf people are not noun!I am not noun I am a Deaf person, I wish I could gesture to you in Italian for your information I am not Italian but I am very very familar with Italian cultures myself, I grew up in Italian community in NYC okay, I am glad you brought up that issue whether small letter d or big letter D for a person should be Deaf, you are right most ethnic people do not use small letter like that so why not all of Deaf community include me to use big letter Deaf. I agree with you!!!

Karen Mayes said...

Oh yes... I have talked about this with a friend of mine last year and "deaf" is seen as a shorthand medical term.

Very good presentation. It is like saying if you have a drop of Irish blood in you, you are IRISH, even though one does not have red hair, green eyes, freckles...

Anonymous said...

Hi..I always enjoy your Vblog. Yes, I noticed myself when I wrote D or d for deaf and I often confused with it for long time until you brought it up. I am glad. Yes, I agree that D is better and stays that way. Thanks for bringing it up.

Anonymous said...

Good Morning, Barb!

I am surprised that no one mentioned the book!

I used the book you showed for my project in the psychology or communication art class at Gallaudet. Of course, I cannot find the book in the storage room, too many boxes I could not look through.

I believe that Tom Humphries/Carol Padden team has revised the book. Perhaps, the new edition book.

There is a debate between the deaf vs. Deaf for years. Unfortunately, the attitude on the d vs. D issue have impacted to all of us, especially, the young and "bully" people. You know the good and bad apple in the community.

So good to have you in the vlogging world as always.

White Ghost

Seek Geo said...

Hi Barb DiGi!

I wanted to say BRAVO for bringing this up!

I have never been big fan of lower case "d" so that's why I always use capital "D" in all of my blogs and videos with subtitle because I believe that every one of us are in ONE group.

I'm so glad you brought this up and I have a good feeling that you really did make a big impact regarding should or should not to use "d". I hope we all can starting using "D" from now on.

We all are ONE big happy family. That's the way to work together and success for the better! :-D

Way to go!


Anonymous said...

We do not capitalize majors or academic disciplines unless they refer to a language, ethnic group, or geographical entity:Roundbottom is an economics major, but he loves his courses in French and East European studies.

B.A.D. said...

Barb -

Very good topic....good discussion!! :-)

I agree "D" in Deaf !!

When I write/or type "I am deaf" I don't like the "feeling"
of that. So when I change it to "Deaf" WOW what A BIG difference in the feeling!!! ;-D


Sheri Farinha Mutti said...

Barb, thank you! This topic is long overdue. I agree the terms are outdated. As you know, Language changes over time, with that of the evolving culture. The terms D/d perpetuate separatism. What we need now are terms and messages that encourage positive interaction and unity! Your message is that of a true leader!
You go girl!
Deaf it is!

Sharon Duchesneau said...

Hi Barb,

I am glad to see the Big D small d issue being revisited again. I completely agree with you that Deaf is an inclusive term and there should not be any "in-group" or "out-group" status associated with it.

You can see ASC's blog on this topic from one year ago: http://www.ascdeaf.com/blog/?p=247. Sticking with the big D also makes for a lot easier reading, instead of changing back and forth all the time, between deaf and Deaf. Although many comments disappeared when our server crashed, I recall a healthy debate over using Big D or small d. Judging from the comments responding to your vlog, it looks like more people have changed their thinking and are supporting the use of Deaf today. Maybe it has something to do with Deafhood. In any case, I am glad to see the support out there.

Great vlog!

Isabella said...

When reading your post, I'm reminded by unpublished articles by A. O'Donnell. I think he has broke through the ideas behind the big and little capitalization as well as several others (can't remember all). Whenever he's around, try to talk to him. I haven't seen anything on Deafread or blogs like his remarks.

An interpreter (hope it's ok that I post!) :-)

Sharon Duchesneau said...

Oops, here's the link to the ASC post on this topic:

What is up with the Big-D in Deaf?

BEG said...

I have very mixed feelings about this. I've always called myself deaf. I've only recently started to learn sign language. I do not feel that I would always be accepted as Deaf because I will never be a native signer, even though I can't help that (the decision to not teach me to sign was made for me, not by me, when I was a child). Therefore, the term I am most comfortable for myself is "deaf."

Also, don't assume that everyone who is "deaf" must be a "hearing oriented person" (yet another reason I don't feel like "Deaf" is appropriate for me -- I find that sentiment above disturbing in its assumptions.)

Anonymous said...

I don’t agree with you what you made comment. You can’t separate Deaf community and deaf community because we will possible be troublemakers. I could disguise your opinion.

I support All DEAF.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:28,

To whom do you don't agree with? Barb is making a point that she is not to separate the Deaf community by labeling small d and big D but big D for all.

IamMine said...

Hi Barb!

Love how you bring this up and turning it into a healthy discussion to reinforce thinking and to encourage others to express their feelings without feeling threatened or fear of getting bashed.

That said, I am with BEG. I do not consider myself Deaf even though I use sign language. It does not mean I focus on my audiological condition because that isn’t true.

I think it's important for a person to define her/himself - but I like your way of thinking where you are saying, "Deaf means everyone who can't hear or simply consider themselves deaf, not by rules or proving themselves" because that'd allow younger d/Deaf children to feel more comfortable instead of seeking approval from other Deaf people who "award" them by giving them that label.

If your argument is agreed by most to “update” the old thinking and one wishes to be “Deaf”, then by means do feel free to use without feeling like he/she has to prove him/herself.

(Unless it’s with Erick *grins* I love ya, Erick but you know it’s true, dude! I can just see you standing in front of me and stare at my CI and go “for for?? Take the frigging thing off and trash it just like I did, dammit!” *grins*) However, he has a good point – it DOES have to do with the language since that is what HAS defined the Deaf people with ASL, art, history, beliefs, and lifestyle.

I feel fine being deaf although I know some find it hard to believe because I have a CI. I guess I’m pretty much an “outcast” in regards to that. ;) But I do find myself very comfortable in the Deaf Culture and love “the people” (I’m just joking here – I was just thinking of something totally un-related…)

Perhaps the next generation would feel much more comfortable if we encourage this kind of thinking.

Interesting topic! And sorry, Sharon, for missing that important topic on your blog!

JungleForest said...

Hi Barb,

Good topic on "D" and "d" term for deaf.

In the past, I always think of myself as a deaf for many years until I learned about "D" is for one group within the community. Never thought of how important is using a "D".

Also, there are few examples: Deaf, Father, Mother, Grandparent, etc. as what they call them. I've seen a uppercase letters in the sentence occasionally.

From what I see is "d" being a silent and "D" is louder and clear. IMO.

Good vlog!

Bobby said...

Hey Hey Barb,
That was a good discussion and I explained to my wife about you and idea of "Deaf" and my wife understood and explained to me about Black and Hispanic. I do understand now.

I am supporting using the term Deaf. For example, when writing,people use Black,Hispanic,Jewish to describe groups of people. it symbolizes the importance of the word. deaf seems to minimize the importance. I am very proud that I am Deaf and ASL.
Bobby Lopez

Jean Boutcher said...

Jean Boutcher said...

I must agree with Sharon Duchesneau. In her blog, she encouraged inclusiveness.

D/d would prompt elitism and divisiveness.

Back to square one, using D would be in reference to ALL people who cannot hear or are hard-of-hearing. Meaning what? We would have to stop defining d/D as non-culturally Deaf and as culturally Deaf respectively henceforth. Even non-signing oralists and implantées can be called "Deaf".

This new definition would erase the old definition in 1970s. I must admit that I have a great admiration for the Generation X for having a mind of their own by reading or thinking with intelligence and judgment.

We do not have to support the philosophy of 1970s. I suggest that one get in touch with dictionary makers to define "Deaf" in the concept of an "inclusive term" -- in the phrase of Sharon Duchesneau.

Karen Mayes said...

Hmmm... when asked who I am, I always say I am a person first. Mother next. Friend next. But I never define myself as Deaf. Yup, I am deaf, but I don't make a big deal out of it. I accept people as who they are, not based on their cultural preferences (if cultural preferences, I am being judgmental.) I am comfortable in my skin and it is kinda disturbing to watch some people posturing themselves as Deaf, Black, etc., like they need to prove something to the world... it is a sign of insecurity.

Deafhood stresses on acceptance of ALL deaf/hoh people, to make the deaf community more open and the Deaf culture NEEDS to evolve in order to follow up with the changes of our times.

Anonymous said...

Karen Mayes

You made excellent points in your comments!!

From reading many blogs and watching vlogs, I have come to the point that we are all d/Deaf.

We are deaf --

- when we see an audiologist for our hearing assessment to get a better hearing aid

- when we use medical terms (profoundly deaf, 50 dB hearing loss, etc)

- when we need assistance in communication

- when we get disability welfare like SSDI because of our being deaf.

We are Deaf when we don't experience frustration or obstacles in communication. We use ASL to communicate with our Deaf friends or sign language interpreters. We go to socials organized by Deaf people and so on...

Like you, I am just myself and an individual first. We change our roles depending on the situation as parent, spouse/partner, woman/ man, caregiver, employee (or employer), Deaf person, patient, and so on...

Hope it makes sense...

Barb DiGi said...

Thank you for all of your wonderful comments. It is good to see different point of views here.

Traditionally, the small d has and will always be used to describe the audiological part as in deafness. I am not talking about using the small d for that purpose though. It is about how we write or refer to the term Deaf with a capital D when talking about Deaf in general. We may use small d if we are to distinguish specific sub groups but at the same time it divides the Deaf community to some but not necessarily to all as some have claimed in the commentatory section. The whole point is no one, in my opinion, should label the ones wth the small d but themselves as they wish.

It is obvious that we are humans first but we are still Deaf. So it is just good to know that to capitalize the d in Deaf is just that same way we capitalize the ethnic groups.

Susan said...

Thanks ASC (Sharon and Candace) for starting an interesting discussion last year. Your blog was thoughtful. Thanks Barb for discussing it again for the new people. I like big D.
I will use D from now on. I never really thought about it much before.

Tom Willard said...

I wrote a comment that got to be too big to be a comment, so I posted it on my blog:


Meredith said...

Wow, I really liked your vlog! I agree with you that Deaf represents culture same as Italian. You are right, nobody says italian for anything! Why should it be different?