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The term hearing or hearing person, from the perspective of mainstream English-language culture, refers to someone whose sense of hearing is at the medical norm. From this point of view, someone who is not fully hearing has a hearing loss or is said to be hard of hearing or deaf. The continuum of hearing ability tends to be broken down into fine gradations. Moving down the scale and further away from the medical norm, people are classed as hearing, then slightly hard of hearing, moderately hard of hearing, severely hard of hearing, and finally deaf (severely deaf or profoundly deaf for those furthest from the norm).
However, when examined in the context of Deaf culture, the term “hearing” often does not hold the same meaning as when one thinks simply of a person's ability to hear sounds. In Deaf culture, “hearing”, being the opposite of “Deaf” (which is used inclusively, without the many gradations common to mainstream culture), is often used as a way of differentiating those who do not view the Deaf community as a linguistic minority, do not embrace Deaf values, history, language, mores, and sense of personal dignity as Deaf people do themselves.[a] Among language minorities in the United States – for example, groups such as Mexicans, Koreans, Italians, Chinese, or Deaf users of sign language – the minority language group itself has a “we” or “insider” view of their cultural group as well as a “they” or “outsider” view of those who do not share the values of the group. So, in addition to using “hearing” to identify a person who can detect sounds, Deaf culture uses this term as a we and they distinction to show a difference in attitude between people who embrace the view of deaf people who use sign language as a language minority, and those who view deafness strictly from its pathological context.
This being the case, a single person could be described as hearing by one person and Deaf by another because the first person was thinking simply about the subject's sensitivity to sound whereas the other person was thinking, partially about the persons ability to rely on residual hearing, but also about their personal views, their identity, or perhaps their ignorance of cultural norms.
- The use of the capital D in Deaf emphasizes this difference in interpretation: a capital D often indicates a cultural, rather than pathological, view of deafness.