Hearing Culture vs. Deaf Culture

by Tamra Goleman

(Ashford University)

Can we communicate effectively with one another without the use of speaking or hearing the spoken words of another person or gain knowledge about a different language without understanding their culture? People who are deaf have a different way of communicating and have their own language that differs from hearing cultures. While there are ways of communicating in both hearing cultures and in deaf cultures there are differences in the way language is used where the concepts studied in class to evaluate those differences are beneficial to learning why respect and ethical communication is important, and to gain an appreciation for those differences. (Jay, 2011).

Deaf History

There have been positive changes in the last 40 years for deaf people. Where they were once put down, called names, and degraded they are now seen as having their own culture which is called deaf culture. Aristotle had a theory which discriminated against people who were deaf when he thought that the only way a person could be educated or could ever learn anything was through words that were spoken. Deaf people were seen as having a handicap and were thought of as being incapable of learning and were treated badly because they could not hear. They were not allowed to attend school because they were thought of as not smart enough and were not capable to learn. Communicating effectively and language is important to all cultures, however, deaf people were thought of as not being psychologically or mentally capable of learning or communicating unless they could hear people speaking to them. Their language and culture was not respected. Even the law didn’t recognize deaf people as equal. According to Jay, (2011) “The law had them labeled as “non-persons” (par.4). They were criticized and belittled for not being able to hear or speak. (Jay, 2011).

Differences of hearing culture and deaf culture

First, there are differences in the way language is used in different cultures because culture affects communication behaviors. You cannot have one without the other. According to Jay, (2010) states “… deaf culture is exactly what Carol Padden defines as a culture: a set of learned behaviors of a group of people that share a language, values, rules for behavior, and traditions” (par.3). Hearing cultures use language to communicate one with another by using the spoken word alternating with listening. Deaf cultures communicate in the way of sign language. For example, the culture I was brought up in taught me how to speak English. The way I speak, my communication skills, my values, morals, behaviors and attitudes came from the culture in which I live. People that are deaf have learned to communicate in sign language (which is different from English and is a language all of its own) and their communication skills, values, morals, behaviors and attitudes came from the culture they live in. (Jay, 2011).

Additionally, the differences of communication of hearing cultures and deaf cultures are to be respected which will help in social interactions to avoid negative assertions; such as biased opinions, criticisms, and judgments. In hearing and speaking cultures nonverbal communication such as body movement and facial expressions are subconscious. In deaf cultures their communication skills depends greatly on moving their bodies, hands, arms, heads, and outwardly show expressions on their faces which are both conscious decisions and efforts in order to communicate. In hearing cultures one of the basic principles of communication is to avoid degrading, negative, hurtful, and disrespectful comments to others. It is important to know the culture of the persons we come in contact and interact with, as well as appreciating their language. To label or call people names such as saying that they are stupid, for example, or use snide remarks for the way one may look, dress, act, or behave is not an ethical means of communicating effectively. According to Hybels, & Weaver (2007) states “As the Credo states… ethical communication is fundamental to responsible thinking, decision making, and the development of relationships and communities with and across contexts, cultures, channels, and media” and “Ethical communication enhances human worth and respect for self and others” (p.20). To respect these differences is an important part of communicating effectively with deaf cultures. (Hybels, & Weaver, 2007).

Finally, another concept of the use of language in the deaf culture according to Hybels, & Weaver (2007) is to “Protect freedom of expression, diversity of perspective, and tolerance for dissent” (p.21). If someone refers to a deaf person as ‘having a handicap’ because they are deaf and do not speak is considered degrading and a negative, criticizing statement about who they are. In my culture it is unethical to call a Mexican a wet-back, a gay person a lezbo, a white person a white cracker, or a religious person a bible-banger. People who are deaf have their own set of values, morals, and beliefs just as people who can hear and speak have within their culture. Deaf cultures should not be discriminated against just as it is immoral and unlawful to discriminate a person’s culture of religion, race, creed, color, or gender. Discrimination goes against the law, principles of ethical conduct, the value of equality, and can destroy relationships, as well as a person’s self-worth. (Hybels, & Weaver, 2007).


Indeed, while there are differences in the way language is used in different cultures the understanding of the differences of hearing cultures versus deaf cultures is important to applying ethical communication skills. According to Hybels, & Weaver (2007) ethical communication is to “Help promote communication climates of caring and mutual understanding that protect the unique needs and characteristics of individual communicators” (p.21). Though communication comes in different forms of language in different cultures essentially one of the most important reasons for being open to the differences in the way language is used in different cultures is according to Hybels, & Weaver (2007) is to “Commit yourself to the courageous expression of your personal convictions in pursuit of fairness and justice” (p.21).


Hybels, S., & Weaver, R. L. (2007). Communicating affectively. (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill

Jay, M. (2011). Start American Sign Language: ASL American sign language. Article retrieved May 6, 2011 from https://www.startasl.com/deaf-culture

Jay, M. (2011). Start American Sign Language: ASL American sign language. Article retrieved May 7, 2011 from https://www.startasl.com/history-of-sign-language

Comments for Hearing Culture vs. Deaf Culture

Mar 07, 2016

No Detectable Thesis

by: Anonymous

You sure wrote a lot, but you didn’t say much of anything. Wish you actually pointed out the differences in verbal communication between deaf culture and hearing culture. Needs more analysis.

Dec 04, 2014

hearing people think you know

by: Anonymous

I work in a prison as an interpreter. I am having a problem with the employees I’ve tried to educate them to understand that just because a deaf person wears a hearing aide this does not mean that they can understand you. Do you have any articles or something I would be able to share. I would like to Train these Hearing people in just how much a deaf person can understand through speaking to them. Get them to realize that not all deaf can understand through writing notes or lip reading. The Inmates that I work with require an interpreter and I am trying to be an advocate and stress awareness in the facility when it comes to the deaf.

Apr 28, 2014


by: Anonymous

Disability is NOT the preferred norm. Deaf or hard of hearing is preferred.

Jan 28, 2014


by: Anonymous

this is fine but.. handicap is way dated. Disability is the preferable norm

Jun 15, 2011


by: Juanita

Brilliant. Well thought out and gives clarity to a culture most of us know little or nothing about. Written from a caring perspective, clear thoughts and information, food for thought. I enjoyed the article tremendously.


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