Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Different World

A number of years ago, before I began seriously losing hearing, I attended a conference of people with various disabilities. There was a strong contingent of deaf people there.

I remember saying something to one of the deaf people about how different ASL was from English, the syntax was different, etc. Very gently and kindly he said, "I need to do a bit of consciousness raising. American Sign Language Is a different language than English, not juse some variation of English." That was the beginning of my education.

In fact, ASL is the third most spoken language in the U.S. after English and Spanish. "Spoken" may sound like an odd word to use for a non-verbal language, but it is important to point out the frequency of ASL use in our country and to recognize it As a separate language.

I remember reading a book in Braille about the man who started the National Theater of the Deaf, in Washington, D.C. There is an English reader reading the script aloud. But the play is performed in ASL plus mime-like gestures, facial expression and body language.

I remember going to a meeting conducted in ASL wwith Ann. I needed an English oral interpreter and felt stupid. But through listening to the exhausted interpreter who could barely keep up with the flying hands, and watching the speakers, Ann was deeply moved. She described it as a beautiful language which is spoken with the whole body, not just the hands or arms. It included facial expression, eye contact, body movements, something like a dance. She said she thought it might be hard to lie in ASL, as so much nonverbal communication was happening among speakers, at so many different levels.

Then I learned why some people who are deaf can't read. How did you learn to read? You learned that a flat squiggle of some kind had a certain Sound, or that a Group of flat squiggles meant "cat" or "dog". But if you were deaf, that single "letter" would mean nothing, just like it means nothing to me, it is lines of flat sh-- on paper. No sound.

So there are highly intelligent deaf people who understand complex and abstract concepts who either avoid or dislike reading in a foreign language based on an alien concept, Sound, and there are some deaf people who Don't read. Something a bit comparable might be a blind person who has never learned Braille. They can speak English, but Cannot write it well. It is the flip-side of the coin.

A deaf-blind friend from our listserv wants to get together to teach me some signs. I Need and am Very Grateful for her help, but I'm Scared, too. She is culturally deaf, lives with a deaf partner, and ASL is her native language. Trying to talk to me will be like trying to talk to a not very bright baby. I'll never forget the time the mother of a deaf-blind child and I were discussing signing. I showed her the little I knew and her reply in a derisive tone was, "But That is signed English!"

She was right. I was putting words together the way an English speaker would and including all of the little unneeded words which Aren't in ASL. It was all I knew and I felt humiliated.

I can often tell culturally deaf people by their writing. In writing some do not include unnecessary words like "the" and many others. It reminds me most of the way I took Braille notes in college, when I had a professor who crammed a lot into his/her lectures.

For instance: "cuts to budget hurt many disabled" The word order in ASL might, probably would, be different, I do not know. But the English written form of that sentence might be: "Planned cuts to the budget could have adverse effects on many people." The meaning is the same, but ASL, from what Little I know, as a Complete Amateur seems to cut to the chase, while carrying the passion about a topic with what is signed.

So the only common this friend and I have is Braille. I guess that until I get fast enough to read her finger spelling or signing, we will have to keep paper in the heavy Braille Writer, (somewhere between 8 and 10 pounds, I'd guess) and shove it back and forth. It will be interesting, and scary. But now that Ann is gone I simply Must widen my community of local friends and to do that I may need to learn a new language. The tendonitis which plagues my right hand won't help. Doc' just said "quit using it for a few months" to which my reply was, "Ok, you just quit using your eyes for a few months" silence.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this post about your experiences with ASL. I seldom get a chance to hear about that language or to think about it.

    How cool that is, learning from a pro. If you knew everything about the language, you would miss the fun of discovering it. The lady teaching you is probably glad to share her knowledge. Mutually beneficial or that awful phrase, "win-win."

    I ducked in case you tossed anything in my direction - wink.

    Oh and it's good to read that you are getting out more and socializing.