Mixed Iran Communication System for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People







By Ali Vazir Safavi


Professor Rachel Rosenstock

Linguistics 101

Spring 2003











According to my linguistic informant, Iranian people distinguished themselves from Arabian people because they speak Persian, not Arabic. Iranians don't speak Arabic as a mother language. Arabic is only used for religious Muslim sayings. In Iran, there are diverse communication systems without discipline for Deaf people. This paper focuses on the problems caused by this situation.




I conducted three interviews with BA, HS, and an linguist. I am also recounting my own experience as follows. When I was growing up in Iran, I thought nothing about my language or communication skills. I have very good communication skills, but I didn't think deeply about them. I didn't analyze my language. I socialized with older deaf people against my parents' wishes. As I grew up, I acquired more power and prestige. I also traveled around Iran where there were different groups of Iranian deaf people, like the Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western deaf groups. After I graduated from high school, my father noticed that my language skills needed improving in order to assume the vice presidency of his companies. I was responsible for 400 people. I had a private tutor that Behmanesh recommended to me for 2 years. The private tutor was a deaf person called Kamran Rahimi. He was proficient in spoken Persian. He wrote in very advanced Persian, equivalent to hearing Iranians. He is the only truly Deaf person that achieved language fluency comparable to hearing Iranians. I don't count the hard of hearing Iranians or the ones that were once hearing, but became deaf later. He corrected my misconceptions about vocabulary, helped me to improve my reading and writing skills from a basic level to an advance level, taught me more about the structure of Persian and how to communicate on a more advanced level for business, history, philosophy, and political debates. His picture is shown below.



Etymology of certain Persian Sign Language forms


The Stokoe notation for PSL STUDENT is shown below.

The story of how this STUDENT came about is very interesting. The Shah was visiting Tehran University when he was almost assassinated. On page 136-7 in the book An Enduring Love, My Life with the Shah, A Memoir by Farah Pahlavi, the Queen of the Shah is the following excerpt:

The king had already survived an attack on his life fifteen years earlier, on 4 February 1949. On that day he had come to preside over the ceremonies commemorating the founding of the University of Tehran and was later to present some students with their diplomas. It was a little after three in the afternoon when he took his place at the head of the official procession. As usual on these occasions, there was a pack of photographers crowding a few feet away from him. Suddenly one of them left the group and, with a gun hidden in his camera, fired at the king several times from less than three yards away. "Three bullets shot my cap off, grazing my skull," the king related. "The fourth hit me on the right cheek bone, made my head tip back, and come out under my nose. I had not taken my eyes off my attacker and I realized he was going to fire again. I had just enough time to turn around and lean over slightly, so that the bullet that should have hit me in the heart caught me in the shoulder. He still had one bullet, but the gun jammed." My husband told me that the man then threw the revolver in his face. At that moment, however, he was killed by the chiefs of the national police and the military police, who fired in unison. Probably stunned, no one had tried to intervene when the shots were being fired. The assassin, named Nasser Fakhr Arai, was discovered to be a member of the Tudeh. It seems that the day before the attempt he had received a press card in the name of a religious publication, The Flag of Islam, so that he could be among the journalists and get close to the king (Pahlavi, 2004).

The news spread rapidly to the deaf community. The grassroots deaf people adopted this sign whizzing across the nose as a result. Later on, when we had the Youth Cultural House of the Deaf conference, we analyzed where this sign came from and found its history inappropriate for standardized PSL. We are trying to teach an alternative compound sign HEAD-PERSON for student.

The Stokoe notation for PSL TEACHER is shown below.

The story of where this TEACHER came from sounds very typical of other Deaf stories of physical abuse in deaf schools. The teachers in Iran would use a long ruler to punish misbehaving elementary and junior high students by hitting their palms. Again, during the conference, we found its history inappropriate for standardized PSL. Abuse of students by impatient teachers is unfair and cruel because most Deaf students do not have a firm foundation in language skills. We are teaching an alternative compound sign TEACH-PERSON. The TEACH part is similar to ASL.


Persian Sign Language (PSL)


According to Behmanesh, Persian Sign Language splintered from Iranian Cued Speech and was heavily influenced by Tea House Sign Language (Ghahveh Khaneh) as well. (Behmanesh, 2002).The basic sentence structure of PSL is S(time)OV. For example, "I love you" is expressed in SOV order with the Persian signs ME YOU LOVE. According to the BA-informant, the effectiveness of PSL was amply proven:

I prefer natural sign language. For instance, Deaf children did not care about phonetic if they understood about content of the story or data. Based on my experience, I was in deaf school and I was acting as an interpreter between my classmates and teachers, my classmates picked up so fast through my sign language while my teacher lectured us. It is proven that natural sign language can transfer the data from black board or teacher's lecture to students' minds.


Iranian Cued Speech


Iranian Cued Speech is part of Persian Sign Language. It is not a separate system like American Cued Speech and ASL. Iranian Cued Speech is used by both signers and oralists. According to Behmanesh, Iranian Cued Speech has been in use by schools and social clubs for more than 30 years. It is uncertain who invented Iranian Cued Speech, but in spite of Iranian beliefs, it seems clear that Baghcheban probably invented it. For Persian Sign Language, the equivalent of fingerspelling is Iranian Cued Speech. According to my linguistic informant, it seems that Iranian Cued Speech has a strong basis on the Persian phonetic alphabet. There are letter pairs {j,g}, {a,l}, {p,t) and {f,s} that are distinguishable only by mouthing in Iranian Cued Speech. Otherwise, there are corresponding signs in Iranian Cued Speech for most of the Persian phonetic alphabet. My HS-informant says that Iranian Cued Speech was 90 percent effective for him, but I disagree strongly with him. For example, to use Iranian Cued Speech like the Rochester Method is to make the student struggle hard to achieve understanding. Most of the time, the tedious communication of using Iranian Cued Speech for all communication is overwhelming to the receptive skills of the students. A more appropriate use is when PSL uses Iranian Cued Speech for spelling out names of places and persons. According to the HS-informant,

It felt normal for me to use Iranian Cued Speech along with Persian Sign Language. To me, Iranian Cued Speech helps me to express something that can't be signed, similar to the function of fingerspelling in ASL.


My BA-informant partly agrees:

It does not work well for everyone especially without any language because they were coming to the school from their home. Their family did not know how to teach Deaf children. On the other hand, it will be working well for everyone like me having language before coming to the school. About Cued Speech, it is ok for everyone to use, if everyone knows language before coming to the deaf school for the first time. Persian Sign Language is much easier than Cued Speech because of body movement and facial expressions. Cued Speech is only to give the data what the person says. There are no emotions or feeling if someone wishes to express by Cued Speech system. There are no similarities between Persian Sign Language and Cued Speech. They are completely different. In addition to this, any Deaf person could not tell a story through Cued Speech. It is clear that Cued Speech cannot be equal to Persian Sign language for Deaf people's access to their communication, because of the system in the communication which Deaf people hardly understand if there is not body movement, facial expressions, or etc.

The background of the BA-informant might explain his perspective about Iranian Cued Speech.

At the beginning of my childhood, I was Oral deaf then I changed my identity when I was in JR high school and until now, I am Deaf person. My attitude about sign language, I am so dedicated to sign language which makes me understand easily.

My HS-informant also has the same preference, "I would prefer a natural sign language over cued speech." The background of the HS-informant is described as follows, "I was an oral deaf person until age 13, then I used Persian Sign Language in the school, but I normally spoke in other situations." Accordingly, I disagree with the following quote regarding cued speech in general: "Cued Speech allows the development of reading skills in hearing-impaired children comparable to their hearing peers." (What is Cued Speech?).


Persian Spoken and Written Language


Persian is called "Farsi" in the Iranian language. Persian came from the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family (World Languages, 2002, pg 78). The Persian spoken language is used by oralists. According to my linguistic informant, apparently, in the Persian written language, some words are spelled differently even if the vowel sound is similar. The Persian written language is based on a different writing system. Vowels are often left out and as a result, it makes it more difficult to read for deaf people. Below is an example of the Persian written language for the phrase "dustet daram."



According to my linguistic informant,

I have asked three different Iranian men what "dustet daram" means. One said it meant "I like you" as in desire, another said it meant a casual ILY and still a third said that it meant "I love you" as used only with your spouse. I had concluded that this polysemous phrase was similar to "te quiero" in Spanish with multiple, but related meanings. The Spanish phrase incorporates both meanings of desire and love, depending on the context: "I want you" is the literal meaning, but one can substitute the verb meaning with the meanings for "like" or "love".

The Roman characters on an English keyboard could be used to write the Persian phonetic alphabet. The same phrases can be spelled differently, for example, "doset daram kheyli ziad" is equivalent to "duste daram khili ziad" which means "I love/like you very much."


Lipreading’s Ineffectiveness


According to Jeffers and Barley, a famous quote about lipreading, "1/3 of speech is only visible on the lips" come from the passage below:

When the speaker is consciously trying to make his speech visible, the speechreader is able to observe not much more than approximately one third of the sensory information available through hearing. And under the usual viewing conditions he will receive from about 10 to 25 percent of the available information. The combined approach, sight and sound, would appear to be not only desirable, but mandatory. With it the speech reader can receive as much as 70 percent of the total information, and since speech is patterned and redundant, it is then fairly easy for him mentally to fill in the remainder. (Jeffers and Barley, 1971, pg 76-77)

According to De Filippo and Clark, more recent research findings on lip-reading were conducted and are described below.

A test was constructed to show if a deaf lipreader derives benefit from amplification. We wanted pairs of phrases or sentences that were distinguishable only through their sound or vibration pattern, but not lipreading (example: "Emergency" vs. "Help her get a seat"). Ten deaf college students viewed 24 such pairs spoken by two talkers (96 items total). On each trial, students read a pair of choices, watched one item spoken, and guessed which one it was. In a lipreading-only condition, 39 items proved to be visually confusable, as desired. Of these, 16 were reliably disambiguated when sound was added (lipreading plus listening). Nearly half of these also had distinct tactile patterns when presented to artifically-deafened adults feeling a vibrator. The 16 new items, compared to a conventional battery of measures, successfully identified good listeners in a group of 27 young adults with widely ranging communication characteristics.(De Filippo, C.L., and Clark, C., 1993, pg 29-51)


Controversy between Department of Education and Department of Health


The Department of Education supports the Oralist method. The Department of Health and Tavanbakhshi University supports Persian Sign Language. Language of power is determined by which department gets the most funding from the government. According to the BA-informant, the controversy between the Department of Education and the Department of Health regarding communication methods in Deaf education is having a huge impact.

Definitely, [the controversy] will impact on Deaf schools and Deaf Education in Iran, especially deaf children are more hurt if the departments fight or argue each other about how to use the approach of teaching to deaf children. Another fact is that Dept of Health is striving and expanding their works by showing their attitudes of acceptance about hiring a few Deaf leaders into these depts. As for this reason, a few Deaf leaders are working on to educate hearing people about how to use Sign Language and publish more books in the sign language area...


During the Shah times, both communication methods were supported. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran neglected the communication needs of Deaf people. The rise and decline of deaf power in the history of the Deaf people in Iran first began after Baghcheban set up his first school in 1924. From 1924 to 1960, Deaf people did not have any power due to the fledging Deaf education system. Most returned to their homes after graduation.From 1960 to 1979, Deaf people had power and protested injustices. Their deaf parents followed the proactive deaf children as well. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Deaf people began to see a lot of language related issues for Deaf people in the educational system. According to Behmanesh,

After the 1979 Revolution, many skilled people in deaf education left Iran for the West. This situation placed the Iranian Deaf people in a difficult predicament and caused a "Dark Age" for them. Today, many Iranian Deaf people do not understand what the teachers say. The schools are all conducted orally. Fortunately, the Department of Health and Tavanbakhshi University employ some literate Deaf people. (Behmanesh, 2002).

According to my HS-informant, who lived during the times of the Islamic Revolution,

In school, there was a diversity of communication methods. Some teachers even invented their own signs. There were also home signs as well. Some teachers couldn't sign at all, and/or used Iranian Cued Speech. We had to lip read them. I felt trapped in the middle regarding the controversy in the Dept of Education and the Dept of Health regarding which communication method to use in the school. I have to follow whoever has the power because my grades depend on it. Sign language did not have the power, the oral method did.

After 1995, the decline of Deaf power was evident in children that graduated with a basic and limited communication system.

In general, the deaf people with no education used home signs. For deaf people who went to school and then came back and associated with these deaf people with no education, it took a long time for them to understand each other. These grassroots people usually hung out in a coffee shop. They were at higher risk for getting into trouble and being arrested, even if innocent of the charges. They were easily taken advantaged of by hearing people. The deaf people that went to school, but dropped out were able to communicate with both the grassroots deaf people and with higher educated people. The deaf people who graduated used PSL and Iranian Cued Speech, were able to effectively communicate with each other, and hold basic jobs in the government. The deaf people who are highly educated and from a family also highly educated are able to communicate very effectively, to hold jobs in government, set up their own business, associate with hearing people, and advocate for their needs and the needs of the deaf community. Unfortunately, there is some degree of discrimination by higher educated deaf people against the grassroots deaf people.


History of Language and Education


When I decided to visit my old grade school for the Deaf, I noticed that the language was much worse than I remembered. During the Shah times (the King of Iran), the language was more regulated by the government. When the Shah left in the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the language fell back to square one, with no linguistics research being used to guide the communication policies in the deaf schools. The people in charge of these policies were replaced by people who were political prisoners during the Shah times even if it meant a lower quality of education. Later on, nine months after Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1990, I left Iran to live in Japan. I came back to Iran in 1997 to set up a well-educated Deaf group to run a Deaf organization. Among its activities was to correct some of the language problems found in the Deaf community. Mohammed Khatami , a moderately liberal Muslim cleric was president of Iran and was more flexible than others before him (Askari, 2003). The deaf organization and I were able to reserve a park with the major of Tehran for a deaf social and political event. During this event, I was able to analyze the communication methods used by both hearing and deaf people. According to Behmanesh for his Deaf Way II presentation about Iran Deaf Education, this event was described below:

In October 1997 (Aban 1376), Deaf youths established the Youth Cultural House of the Deaf (Anjoman Park Shafagh). Some of the founders learned how to operate a deaf organization when they stayed in Japan. Upon their return to Iran, the deaf youths impressed Iranian government officials when they established a place in Shafagh Park for other deaf youths to benefit from. Shafagh Park from which the organization name is derived from, is considered to be the heart of Tehran. With the sponsorship of the Iranian National Center for the Deaf (Canon Karolalhay Iran), local deaf clubs, and the city hall, this youth organization hosted a major event in 1998 (1377) to promote Iranian deaf culture and language. The president of the World Federation of the Deaf was invited to Iran for this event. (Behmanesh, 2002).

During this conference, there was a panel of four people from the Department of Education and four people from the Department of Health and Tavanbakhshi University that debated the issue of which communication method was better, the oralist method or PSL. The conclusion the that panel accepted was that PSL was the better method. The committee that refereed the debate consisted of the President of the World Federation of the Deaf Liisa Kauppinen, Samineh Baghcheban (daughter of the man who invented Iranian Cued Speech), and the president of the Youth Cultural House of the Deaf (AnjomanPark Shafagh), Habib Mahdavi.


           Liisa Kauppinen                                        Samineh Baghcheban                                 Jabar and Samineh Baghcheban


I was responsible for managing the activities during the conference itself, like security, decorations, flowers, food, drinks, advertising, etc.




We should use PSL. We should discipline the communication system. Iran should cooperate with mandates from the World Federation of the Deaf and the United Nations regarding language rights. Iran should set up a committee of Deaf well-educated people to dictate the language requirements of the Deaf school systems.



Askari, Hossein. "Iran". History on Encyclopedia.com. or Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed. 2003. Assessed on April 10th 2003. (http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/section/iran_history.asp)

Behmanesh, Abbas Ali. "Deaf Way II Presentation On Iranian Deaf Culture." July 2002. Accessed on April 15, 2003. (http://www.geocities.com/abehmanesh/IranDeaf.htm)

De Filippo, C.L., and Clark, C. "Use of ambiguous visual stimuli to demonstrate the value of acoustic cues in speech perception." Journal of Communication Disorders, 26. 1993. Accessed on April 10, 2003 (http://www.rit.edu/~490www/resbull/vol3/vol3-1-add.html)

Jeffers, Janet and Margaret Barley. Speechreading (Lipreading). 1971. Illinois: Thomas.
Orton, Rebecca. "Iranian Linguistics." Spring 2003. Accessed on April 10, 2003. (http://www.geocities.com/marylee1717/IranLing.htm)
Pahlavi, Farah. Enduring Love, My Life With the Shah: A Memoir. January 21, 2004. New York:Miramax Books.

“What is Cued Speech? Some Facts About Cued Speech." Accessed on April 10, 2003 (http://www.cuedspeech.com/facts.cfm).

"World Languages and North American Languages." Readings Packet for LIN 101 Sign Language and Sign Systems. September 5th, 2002.