Although spoken English is the official language in Jamaica, you will also hear Patois, a dialect based on English. However, SST in Jamaica is focused on practicing your American Sign Language (ASL) skills by serving, working and playing with the Jamaican Deaf Community.

North American Deaf Culture

At Goshen College, when referring to Deaf people, we are concerned with a linguistic minority group in North American that possesses a unique language (ASL) and culture. Unlike many other cultures, Deaf culture is not associated with a single place or a “native land.” Rather, it is a culture based on relationships among people for whom a number of places and experiences of exclusion have created a common history and common set of values and beliefs. ASL is the primary language of this culture and is, in itself, a core cohesive component for the members.

Jamaican Sign Language and Deaf Culture

As in the United States and Canada, Jamaican Deaf Culture is often learned and passed on at the Schools for the Deaf. Currently there are a minimum of 10 schools for the Deaf scattered across this island country. These schools range in size from eight to 200 students, and in age from six up through 18 years. Many of the schools are residential, meaning the children stay at the school during the week and go home on the weekend (and/or over holidays). Of these schools, roughly half are run by religious groups and the other half are minimally supported by the Jamaican government. These latter schools would not exist without the management, guidance and fundraising efforts of the Jamaican Association for the Deaf (JAD).

Many of the earliest Deaf schools established were those founded by the religious groups from the United States and Canada. Missionaries, many of them hearing people, brought their own sign language (ASL or some form of signed
English) and taught it to the Deaf students. Although an indigenous sign language existed (now generally referred to as Island or Country Signs) there were little or no attempts by the northern professionals to learn this language from the local Jamaican Deaf people.

The result has been the language known as Jamaican Sign Language (JSL), now widely accepted and used by most Deaf adults in Jamaica, which was heavily influenced by ASL. Therefore individuals who know ASL can readily adapt their language and quickly learn to communicate with someone who knows JSL. Goshen College students who have studied a minimum of two semesters of ASL will have beginning communication abilities with JSL users. During their service assignments at these schools for the Deaf, GC students will interact with Deaf students and adults, improve their JSL (and subsequently ASL) skills and gain a deeper appreciation for the minority experience of the Deaf community in Jamaica. During the study portion of this experience students will continue to develop their JSL/ASL skills and learn about Island Signs from native Deaf people.