How to ensure bilingualism/biliteracy in an indigenous context: The case of icelandic sign language

Elena Koulidobrova*, Rannveig Sverrisdóttir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper discusses the implementation of a bilingual education language policy in the context of endangered indigenous sign language—Icelandic Sign Language (íslenskt táknmál, ÍTM). Unlike other indigenous endangered languages (e.g., Sámi), or other sign languages (e.g., American Sign Language, ASL), ÍTM has received certain recognition typically associated with equitable language policy—by law, it is considered the “first language” of the deaf/hard of hearing Icelanders; further, Iceland overtly states that ÍTM-signing children must be educated bilingually. However, we show that as a country that has committed itself to linguistic equality as well as the support of indigenous languages under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, Iceland still has a way to go—both in terms of language attitudes and the associated implementations. We analyze the current situation focusing on the issues of bilingualism and biliteracy (vis-à-vis indi-geneity and endangerment), explain the reason for the state of affairs by contextualizing the barrier to both for signers, and offer an explicit path forward which articulates the responsibilities of the power structures as well as potential outcomes related to revitalization, should these responsibilities be fulfilled.

Original languageEnglish
Article number98
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

Other keywords

  • Audism
  • Bilingualism
  • Heritage language
  • Indigenous
  • Language attitudes
  • Language policy
  • Sign language


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