"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive." Anaïs Nin

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Once Upon A Time" A must read, educational post from Candysweetblog

This is an excellent post I read at Candysweetblog that I just have to share. I get asked often about the differences of ASL and SEE and the history of Sign Language. I also compare the differences in the nuances as different dialects you find around the Country, or even between different English Speaking countries. This delves a little deeper into the cultural development of Sign Language. I hope you find it as educational and informative as I  have.
http://candysweetblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/once-upon-a-time/#comment-5234   I left the following comment at the bottom of the page: "I get asked questions about the differences all the time. I also think in part it has to do with where you live and grew up. We had only Signed Exact English when I took classes in a small community on the West Coast. My Deaf friends used SEE as well, but they were in their 50′s back when I was in my 20′s taking classes. Language changes and evolves from generation to generation, such as Old English and modern English. We have English words today that weren’t even in existence a decade ago, mostly due to technology “speak”. There are small pockets of Deaf community not far where I live now near the East Coast that have an entirely different “dialect” from both SEE and ASL, passed down through the family where they actually have to have interpreters between signers! I just learned this from an interpreter at church recently. I did not know that. Thank you for educating me further on this topic."


  1. XH,

    Candy's post leaves out much.

    As you might have learned, L'Epee learned the signed language of the Deaf community in Paris and then used that basis to devise 'Methodical signs'. This was an artificial system devised to teach French to d/Deaf pupils. Both systems would have coexisted. LeClerc brought both systems to the US. In the US there already existed signing communities, the best known a large signing community on Martha's Vineyard that included both hearing and Deaf. The students from these signing communities arrived at LeClerc's school already knowing a signed language. This (These) preexisting signed language(s) interacted at school to give rise to forms of ASL closer to those known today. Students did not keep all the artificial forms of 'Methodical English' - this was mostly an instructional tool.

    Europeans have a long history of vigorous and largely successful attempts to destroy minority languages and cultures. In the last quarter of the 19th century, those attacks showed up in the US. This was around the time of the infamous Milan Conference in 1880, but the Milan Conference was not solely responsible for the attacks on ASL. This is evidenced by similar efforts to destroy American Indian languages and cultures. These attempts to belittle and destroy ASL persisted for about a century. When I learned to sign, I was taught Signed English as "the only proper language" (not my words) and ASL was belittled as "low verbal" (also not my words). If you learned to sign a few decades ago from older Deaf, you might have come up against similar attitudes.
    Some, maybe even many, Deaf bought into these destructive majority attitudes, as did members of other minority groups. For many decades, within American black culture it was usual to assign social status based on how light or dark one's skin might be. There was a saying "If you're light, you're alright. If you're brown, stick aroun'. If you're black, stand back." The lighter skinned blacks were referred to (within the black community) as "elites" (pronounced 'e-lights'). The fact that some members of a minority group adopt destructive majority views does not make those majority views legitimate or any less destructive.

    The main issue with signed English as an instructional tool is consistency of linguistic rules and uses. However much some people might make of inconsistencies of usage among ASL users, signed English is far more inconsistent and many hearing users of signed English simply delete much information when they sign. Signed English does not have enough consistency of use to be considered a language. (This is not a specific attack on signed English. The same is true of any other Contact Language or ‘Pidgin’.) That, as I see it, is a major reason to push for ASL as the instructional medium. I am more comfortable with what I have seen of Bilingual-Bicultural programs, in terms of providing quality education to d/Deaf children.

    BTW, I have given up reading the blogs of Candy and MM because they seem to be on crusades to belittle Deaf culture. In my opinion, their posts have become fairly predictable anti-Deaf.


  2. An additional thought.

    Those who fixate on word order in an attempt to decide if someone is signing ASL or English Contact (PSE) are mistaken. Word order is not the only or even the most important difference between ASL and English. ASL is a high-context inflected language while English is a low-context uninflected language. The presence or absence of inflection is at least as important as word order when you try to decide if someone is signing ASL or English Contact (PSE).

    My personal objection to the general use of PSE is that not only do many signers of PSE delete information in the form of simplified word choices, most also are almost completely without inflection, which further cramps communication. The most effective communicators I know retain a *lot* of ASL inflection even when they code-switch towards PSE.

    Signers of PSE could greatly improve the effectiveness of their communication if they would work to incorporate more inflection into their usual form of PSE


  3. David,

    Thank you for furthering my education of Sign Language. I was hoping to find more things you have written, but I didn't find a blog by you through the link your name connects to when I click on it.

    Thank you for taking the time to leave your comments with such detailed explanations.

    Xpresssive Handz

  4. Xpressivehandz..

    Thank you! There's more to this history of sign language than I have shared on my post.

    In my other post I shared some details, the link to my other post is on my current post: Challenging ASL: PSE Rules. And, I'll copy part of it. The links to sources are in that post as well.

    In 1694, the first deaf settler and his hearing wife moved to Martha's Vineyard from Massachusetts. They had emigrated to Massachusetts from southern England, known as the Weald in the county of Kent. They brought Old Kent Sign Language with them to the new world and Old Kent Sign Language continued to develop and then was known as Chilmark Sign Language by the 18th century. Then, in the 19th century, Chilmark was influenced by French Sign Language, forming Martha's Vineyard Sign Language. When American School for the Deaf was established, many deaf from Martha's Vineyard attended ASD. MVSL was intermingled with Old French Sign Language (French grammar comparable to English grammar) taught by Clerc and Gallaudet along with some home signs which resulted in what historians call ASL.

    Clearly there are controversies regarding ASL. I feel that sign language, whether it's true ASL, SEE, PSE, etc should all be respected and that includes other modes such as Cued Speech. You will find those who are Deaf of Deaf and part of Deaf culture all have varying views. I feel that sign language should be allowed to evolve naturally and not manipulated like ASL is these days and then of course there are different views. You might want to do more research on this if you're curious. Again, Thank you for mentioning my blog.


  5. Candy has provided some more pieces of the historical puzzle of how we got 'here' with ASL.

    I certainly agree with respecting *people*, regardless of which communication choices they have made. However, Candy has made a common error, mixing languages and modalities in one sentence. English and ASL are languages. Cued speech is a modality of English. PSE is a pidgin (contact language) that varies from user to user and often from day to day for single users. SEE is supposed to be a modality of English, but in my observation of several users and families, it tends to function more like a pidgin. I suspect that this is due in large measure to the fact that SEE is extraordinarily tedious when used as the fabricators instruct.

    As to sign language "evolving naturally" without "manipulation", you'd have to go back three or four hundred years to find a time when that might have been true. Signed language in the US has been manipulated (no pun intended ;-) for a couple of centuries, mostly by Hearing people who have very little appreciation of Deaf culture, and often little appreciation of Deaf people. I am all in favor of "natural evolution" when it is driven by the stakeholders, i.e. Deaf people ourselves. I get quite irritated when Hearing dictate how Deaf should sign. This is exactly like Non-Indian people trying to dictate how American Indian people use their own languages, and just as wrong.

    I do not know exactly what "manipulation" Candy is complaining about, but I would guess that Candy is actually talking about Deaf people asserting ownership of our own language. This assertion of ownership is not a smooth process, but it is necessary.

    My attempts to keep a blog going always seem to disintegrate. I do not even seem to be able to keep a Facebook page up-to-date. Likely a consequence of ADD,


  6. Thank you, Candy and David for these comments. I now have more perspectives and history I can share with my students, and you've certainly brought my own knowledge up a notch or two. I have so much to learn.

    David, hope you have your writings compiled somewhere. Even if you don't keep them up, they are interesting for others to read. :-) I go through what I call "writing spells". I'll get several ideas all at once and write, then I go awhile and not write anything. I'm more of a reader than a writer as it is, but I like finding information and blogs to share with others. I have so much to learn, and I find bloggers to be great teachers on all kinds of topics.

    Candy, you are very welcome for the mention. Thank you for expounding further, as well.

    Xpressive Handz