Like I said in my last post I do have some experience with sign language. I know my alphabet and some basic words that I have been able to participate in some simple conversations and get the gist of what is being communicated. But this week I wanted to start diving into some of the basic histories behind ASL, as well as beginning to expand my vocabulary and building sentences.
What is ASL?.
Sign Language is often simplified to the point of categorizing it as a language expressed through the movement of the hands. However, ASL is truly a gesture-based language that is largely expressed through the entire body: raising and lowering eyebrows, tilting or shaking the head, twisting body, it is a full-body expression. What is important to recognize is that like we different forms and types of Englishes around the world we have different sign languages as well. The Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Madagascar, and many more have their own sign language. Though ASL or American based Sign Language is dominant it is important to recognize the different versions that exist and it is not automatically a nationwide understood language understood by all those who are apart of the deaf and heard of hearing community.
Like all languages that exist, ASL comes with its own culture, and as someone who wants to be apart of this community think one of the first steps in building respect for it. One thing that I did know going into this was that people apart of the deaf and hard of hearing community do not consider their deafness a disability. They do not see themselves as impaired versions of Hearing people, but instead, a cultural group bonded together by a common language. Many people in this community would choose to remain deaf if given the opportunity.
I was able to learn the difference between someone being “deaf” and someone being “Deaf” (note that the only difference is the capitalization of the “d”. Those who are dear refers to the physical deafness that one lives in related to the “medical model”. While “Deaf” refers to those who are “culturally Deaf” and feel that being Deaf is about “language, culture and a visual orientation to life”.
“It may help to realize it isn’t out “deafness” that we value. rather it is our “Deafhood”.
The video above is by the user “The Essential Sign” and thought her page itself does not teach people how to sign she does cover a lot of “Do’s and Don’ts”, as well of what her life if like and the ASL interpretation of songs. Though I can’t directly learn sign language from her I find her page engaging and interesting to watch.
As someone looking to communicate with those in the deaf community, we learn American Sign Language. But, often people who are deaf have hearing parents causing a learning curve for parents and child which can be difficult. What we often don’t realize is that ASL has its own grammar rules that differ from English that can cause difficulty for those who have English as their primary language. Pidgin (Pidgin Sign English or PSE) is a combination of Sign Language and English. PSE is not a language in itself though it is a “communication system”. PSE is a source of communication intended to bridge the gap between “Hearies and Deafies”.