While ISL has not always been used as the primary method of instruction in education the language itself has continued to grow. It is imponant to remember that a minority (10%) of Deaf children are actually born to Deaf parents. These children acquire Irish Sign Language as a mother tongue with it being used in the home environment from birth.
For the majority of Deaf children (with the other 90% being born to hearing parents) sign language is not usually acquired at home. When they start school they may be exposed to sign language that is being used by other children. It is this peer group who provide exposure to Irish Sign Language in their daily interadion.
It is also important to highlight that Irish Sign Language is seen by many Deaf people as their first language. This is a view that many Deaf people around tend to hold true. To this end many Deaf communities have campaigned for the legal recognition of their natural sign languages in their own countries. Here in Ireland specific mention of Irish Sign Language occurs in the Education Ad 1998.
It was here in St. Josephs that a modern form of Irish Sign Language (ISL) evolved and also where the different natural sign languages have had an influence on it. (Matthews RA.)
Irish Sign Language (ISL) is the primary sign language that is used in the Republic of Ireland with a small number of users in Northern Ireland. Although the Republic of Ireland the United Kingdom and the USA all share the same written and spoken language (English) the sign languages used all vary greatly.
It is estimated that there are 5000 – 6000 people using Sign Language as their first language or mother tongue in Ireland.
Irish Sign Language has a long history and has been influenced by the developments in Deaf education. Standardisation of sign language dates back to the eighteen hundreds when Abbe De I’Eppe developed a signing system to use in the education of the Deaf – which was based on the sign language used at the time. This led to the development of Old French Sign Language. This language played a part in the evolution of ASL.
While the history of sign language is not as well documented as one should like it to be, there can be no doubt about its existence in the early days. ASL, for example is one well researched sign language which is complete and refined containing its own grammar and syntax.
As is the case with all Other natural sign languages the grammar of ISL differs from that of written English. However when Deaf education is present there will be some form of interface between the two.