I’ve been starting to learn Sign Language for work. My first official class starts on Wednesday. I’m a little disappointed because the class I’m starting on Wednesday is not going to teach me ASL but English Sign. A lot of confusion has ensued from me stemming off on my own, including more than one trek to the grand old Boston Public Library.
First off, if you are thinking of checking a book out of the library about sign langauge, or really, any language, do not get a book that is older than you! I repeat, if the book is from the 70’s leave it on the shelf, it’s most likely no longer relevant. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way. Many of the words I spent time memorizing, it turns out, are just simply out of use. The language has changed, evolved if you will, into something else. Yet I’m sure you, dear reader, are much wiser than I. I trust you wouldn’t make the same mistake.
Also, don’t go to the BPL for books on sign, they’re all really old, checked out, or worse so worn they’re ripped to shreds. There is a limited selection.
Which brings my to my second point, in my ongoing list of misguided attempts to learn this new language, make sure you’ve go the right language! Yup. I set out to learn ASL and got out a book that was decidedly not ASL, without realizing it.
As I now understand, and please correct me if I’m wrong, in the U.S. there are two basic groups that sign is split into. ASL and English Based Sign (Britain has it’s own sign language different from English Based Sign. Not what I’m talking about here today). English sign is also called Sign Supported Speech. ASL is used by most d/Deaf folks in the U.S. That or a kind of pidgin language that combines Signed English and ASL.
In Sign Supported Speech there is the
Rochester Method, which is mostly fingerspelling.
SEE1 and SEE2.
Signing Exact English (SEE1) “In this system, the world ‘butterfly’ is made up of three signs of movements (1but-2er-3fly).”
Signing Exact English (SEE2) “‘English Should be signed in a manner that is consistent as possible with how it is spoken/written’ (Gustason, et. al., 198). This means that idioms such as ‘dry up,’ ‘cut it out,’ or ‘stop horsing around’ would be signed as those exact words……In SEE2 the word consumer contains the rot consume (ex: I am a consumer of interpreter services), thus it is signed I AM AN EATER of INTERPRETER SERVICES. This, of course, presents a very inappropriate conceptual message.”
Signed English, “…like SEE2, all prepositions conjunctions , prefixes, suffixes, and verb forms, are signed in an English, rather than ASL, form. Therefore, the sign TO EAT would be used to convey the idea of consuming too much food, while the sign TO USE would convey the idea of being a consumer (a user) of particular services.”
and CASE, “…meaning has primary importance and signs are selected based on the meaning of the ideas being conveyed….In the CASE signing system, a different sign would be used for the world “make” in each of the following sentences. I will make dinner. Go make your bed. Did you make that coat rack?”
They are all different and you can find more about them here or straight to my source from So You Want to be an Interpreter by Janice H. Humphrey and Bob J. Alcorn, second edition.
Moral of the story, I ended up getting a book out of the library teaching me SEE2. This is not ASL. Whoops. Make sure you have the right language!
The next thing I’ve been finding really helpful and fascinating is learning about deaf culture. I’m currently reading A Deaf Adult Speaks Out. Yet, again though, this book is not exactly up to date, also conceived in the 70’s along with that SEE2 book. I’d love it if you gave me suggestions of modern books to read on deaf culture in the U.S. or abroad.
I’ve also been going to ASL meet-ups on Sundays. The people I’ve met so far are very patient, kind, welcoming, gentle, and funny. A great environment for me to learn it. I’m very thankful.
It’s casual, over drinks, with about 10 or more people. I don’t know what is happening most of the time if I’m not asking someone to sign slow, no…slower…in a side conversation. Even so, I’m already learning so much. It’s not that easy to find people who will sign. It’s not like there is a country I can go to to practice. It’s not like Spanish, I can’t just go to Chile or Peru to practice. There isn’t a completely non-hearing country. Maybe small communities, the Vineyard, or maybe Gallaudet, but it’s different. Different because these d/Deaf cultures, sub-cultures, form within larger cultures of spoken languages. As a hearing individual that knows close to nothing about deaf culture in general, I aim to tread lightly within a subculture that I know little about not wanting to recapitulate oppressions, impose on safe spaces, and assert an unwelcome presence reminiscent of colonialism. I need to be aware that my learning this language, or attempts to anyway, means not just learning vocabulary, syntax, and grammar. Learning this langauge must come with come with cultural awareness d/Deaf cultural norms. I must attempt to think through what it means to be d/Deaf in a hearing world, not that I’ll every truly know, or ever come close to knowing. What I’m trying to say is, these ASL meet-ups couldn’t be more invaluable. I’m learning not just the language, but norms, culture, a different way of life. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a such a welcoming group so far. Who hopefully will continue to correct my (many, many) mistakes.
I have much more to say, but I’ll end here, and hope for recommendations on books, and general feedback!