sign language not a real language?

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apathrev

Guest
I got into a conversation yesterday with a friend and coworker about ASL yesterday at work. Now before I get into this, let me say this about him. He is a very smart individual, one of the smartest people I know, but he is very insensitive, and one sided. He always gets a kick out of ASL syntax. He loves using it because he thinks it is speech that would be used by "retards." Like I said, he is insensitive. Now we got into it, and he argued that ASL is is not a real language because it has no written form, it does not use tenses, and at times it is hard to get points across because of this. He think it is not a fully developed language because of this. I didn't give him a debate, because I'm not educated enough on the subject to answer for myself. I'd like to hear some responses to his statements. Do you agree, disagree? Why?
 

Reba

Retired Terp
Premium Member
You state that your friend is "one of the smartest people I know." Sorry, but you need to expand your social group. ;)

Anyway, how much background in ASL does this "smart" friend have? Is he Deaf or CODA, has he taken a course in ASL linguistics? "Smart" people don't use such terms as "retards" to describe people. Personally, I think he is blowing smoke.

Real language does not require a written form. What about all the undeveloped nations that have thousands of tribal dialects, with no written forms?

ASL definately uses tenses, as with the spatial "time line" (backwards = past, forward = future, close to the body = present).

Is it "hard to get points across" in ASL, or is your friend just not fluent enough to do it?
 

signer16

New Member
Many languages do not have a written form, especially African languages, that is not an issue. ASL, LIKE Vietnamese, uses time to set up its tense. Tenses are used in ASL if no tense is established "see-finish", and the time must be changed to talk about a different time period. If he is really interested, or you are, there is a book, called, Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American Sign Language. It is fairly technical, and really made for curious linguists I think, but it gives you enough information to understand that ASL is truly its own, separate language. The reason ASL doesn't have so many words, which what I'm sure your co-worker is commenting on, is that FACIAL EXPRESSION plays a huge part in grammar, and in a visual language, it doesn't "look right" to add in so many 'extra' words, just as ASL grammar doesn't "sound right" in spoken form. Hope this helps, just the thoughts of an ASL student.

--This is a fight everyone in the deaf community has for life, and is one of the big things I mention to people when they ask me about deafness. "Duh...is sign language universal?" ARGGG... How would deaf people spread out across countries and separated, develop the same language around the world, when hearing people couldn't do it? Whatever...
 

Reba

Retired Terp
Premium Member
signer16 said:
Many languages do not have a written form, especially African languages, that is not an issue. ASL, LIKE Vietnamese, uses time to set up its tense. Tenses are used in ASL if no tense is established "see-finish", and the time must be changed to talk about a different time period. If he is really interested, or you are, there is a book, called, Grammar, Gesture, and Meaning in American Sign Language. It is fairly technical, and really made for curious linguists I think, but it gives you enough information to understand that ASL is truly its own, separate language. The reason ASL doesn't have so many words, which what I'm sure your co-worker is commenting on, is that FACIAL EXPRESSION plays a huge part in grammar, and in a visual language, it doesn't "look right" to add in so many 'extra' words, just as ASL grammar doesn't "sound right" in spoken form. Hope this helps, just the thoughts of an ASL student.

--This is a fight everyone in the deaf community has for life, and is one of the big things I mention to people when they ask me about deafness. "Duh...is sign language universal?" ARGGG... How would deaf people spread out across countries and separated, develop the same language around the world, when hearing people couldn't do it? Whatever...
:gpost:
 

bigdaddyb

New Member
cental34 said:
I got into a conversation yesterday with a friend and coworker about ASL yesterday at work. Now before I get into this, let me say this about him. He is a very smart individual, one of the smartest people I know, but he is very insensitive, and one sided. He always gets a kick out of ASL syntax. He loves using it because he thinks it is speech that would be used by "retards." ....... Do you agree, disagree? Why?

First of all, let me say this. Intellictual capacity is the raw material that intelligence is made of. He may have a lot of intellictual capacity, but your friend isn't very bright, or very well read for that matter.

Look at some of the other responses to your posting. Your friend has exposed his EXTREMELY limited knowledge of linguistics. His ignorance invalidates his opinion. Whether presented by a genius or a moron, an ignorant perspective is an ignorant perspective.

Your friend's choice of the term 'retard' is particularly troubling. Personally, I enjoy the 'lean' nature of ASL. Not a lot of needless words. This is of GREAT help to us hearies who are learning to know and enjoy deaf folks. His word choice shows that he's bought into the lie that deaf = stupid. I don't have to tell the folks here how wrong that is.

Your friend may be intelligent, but he's not much of a thinker. His conclusions show a marked deficit in reasoning ability. The 'it isn't what I think it should be, so it must be incorrect' view point doesn't require much thinking or intelligence to own.

Tell him to get off his lazy ass and live as a real intellectual. Study and thought come before opinion. Study and thought require effort. This is why real intellectuals are considered rare.

brianb

P.S. I've heard this same sort of crap about Tourettes also.
 
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apathrev

Guest
I didn't post this to debate my friend's inteligence, or lack of. Just know he can hold himself in a debate, and is one of the most well studied people I know. I posted to see what users of ASL's response to his statements would be. Back on topic please. I'm not defending his statements. I'm the student in this lecture, so please educate me.
 

bigdaddyb

New Member
cental34 said:
I didn't post this to debate my friend's inteligence, or lack of. Just know he can hold himself in a debate, and is one of the most well studied people I know. I posted to see what users of ASL's response to his statements would be. Back on topic please. I'm not defending his statements. I'm the student in this lecture, so please educate me.

That's what I gave you. A hearing ASL user's perspective. Mine.

Your initial comments brought is intelligence into scope. Your comments about his being one-sided and insensitive also bring intellect into the discussion.

I have ASL conversations several times weekly. That makes me an ASL user. This is my perspective. My perspective is the same for anyone who puts forward the opinions that your co-worker espouses.

That being said, let me state it again. My opinion on ASL grammar is that it is efficient, but not rudimentary. Tense is not missing. Tense is processed differently, but is, none the less, present in a very real, understandable way. Many signs in ASL are overloaded with meaning. Concepts that require short sentences in spoken English can be communicated with a single sign in ASL.

Going beyond ASL, the concept of Total Communication (TC) enhances the efficiency and provides VERY granular contextual meaning. Body posture, facial expression, etc. bring ASL to a level of communication that is at least on par with spoken languages. I get this as a TC-friendly hearie. I can only imagine how much meaning is conveyed when two TC deaf people are communicating.

There is far more to ASL communication than just hand signs replacing spoken words. I firmly believe that this form of communication can't be learned or even really appreciated until it is done so within the context of deaf culture.

My point was not to pointlessly belittle your co-worker. To compare ASL grammar to what 'retards' would use shows a lack of knowledge and understanding of what ASL communication is. It shows the forming of opinions with a significant absence of facts.

brianb
Signing hearie married to non-signing HOH
 

Anij

Well-Known Member
cental34 said:
I got into a conversation yesterday with a friend and coworker about ASL yesterday at work. Now before I get into this, let me say this about him. He is a very smart individual, one of the smartest people I know, but he is very insensitive, and one sided. He always gets a kick out of ASL syntax. He loves using it because he thinks it is speech that would be used by "retards." Like I said, he is insensitive. Now we got into it, and he argued that ASL is is not a real language because it has no written form, it does not use tenses, and at times it is hard to get points across because of this. He think it is not a fully developed language because of this. I didn't give him a debate, because I'm not educated enough on the subject to answer for myself. I'd like to hear some responses to his statements. Do you agree, disagree? Why?


Thought I'd jump in on this one too :)

I appologise in advance ... I tend to write essays.

Cental34 -

Ummm if I remember correctly you do relay ??? so would I be correct that your co-worker is also a CA ???

I've spent a lot of time, writing back and forth to deaf ASLers - and yeah , sometime the engligh can be hard to understand - it's really important to remember , and remind others that for many of us , using written english is a 2nd or 3rd language ( personally I tend to think of speechreading as a seperate 'language', of it's own... even though I know that's technically not accurate)

I think we tend to read better than write. It's much easier to read a 2nd language, and go look up the words you don't "get" , or guess at the context , than it is to try to create the words ( phrases) from scratch.

I primarily usually use a TTY for "important things" such as solving issues with the bank, or doctor, or other things that can be fairly stressful - and even though I had enough hearing as a child to aquire English fairly "normally" .. when I get stressed out, it's my english that gets messed up first ( not my ASL). I'm sure that there have been a number of people on the other end of my relay calls thinking " what a stupid .... "


ASL is a true language:
*It has it's own grammar structure
*it does have tenses, just not in the same way that it's done in English
*it has it's own form of poetry, and stories.
*There's an arguement to be made that ASL does have a written form via "signwriting" - though I don't know anyone that uses it :roll:

Of course there are a number of languages that either have no written form , or have an artifically created written system.


PSE, SEE, SEEII etc are not Languages , but instead a visual "mode" or "code" of english, in much the same way that braille a manually coded version of printed text, but not it's own written language.

Hmmm about it being hard to get the point across in ASL ... I think that's a fluency issue more than anything else. As with all languages some things just are really had to translate - something that might be a simple thing in ASL , could be a complicated thing in English , or vise versa. ASL has expressions like "OUT" ( meaning , feeling left out of something, and not being able to follow etc) , and "TRAIN GO SORRY" ... both of which I think are MUCH easier to understand in ASL , than English. English has a number of things that are hard to translate into ASL though - figures I can't think of anything right now though :roll:

It's important to realise that these issues exist in all languages , not just ASL to English ... expressions like "needles in a haystack" translate into " ants in a log" in french ( I think I translated that rcorrectly)


I hope this helps a bit .... I'd love to yack more about it if you're up to it ( either publically , or PM)
 
cental34 said:
I got into a conversation yesterday with a friend and coworker about ASL yesterday at work. Now before I get into this, let me say this about him. He is a very smart individual, one of the smartest people I know, but he is very insensitive, and one sided. He always gets a kick out of ASL syntax. He loves using it because he thinks it is speech that would be used by "retards." Like I said, he is insensitive. Now we got into it, and he argued that ASL is is not a real language because it has no written form, it does not use tenses, and at times it is hard to get points across because of this. He think it is not a fully developed language because of this. I didn't give him a debate, because I'm not educated enough on the subject to answer for myself. I'd like to hear some responses to his statements. Do you agree, disagree? Why?


well apparently your friend is not smart enough with deaf culture and its own languages.. what such a ignorant friend u have. :roll:
 
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apathrev

Guest
Thanks for the insight. This definetely helps to answer his questions and give him an honest debate. I'm sure his answer to many African tribal languages not being written will be that they're not real languages, either. Anij, you are correct, he is a communications assistant, and he has professed a hatred for his job and dislike for deaf culture on more than one occassion. But again, he is very smart and educated.

I took the time to look up the dictionary definition of the word language, and in all given definitions are summarized as a form of expressing thoughts, words, and ideas. Not a thing about the form or medium to which it is expressed through that limits the definition. Again, thanks for all the help.
 

Reba

Retired Terp
Premium Member
cental34 said:
I'm sure his answer to many African tribal languages not being written will be that they're not real languages, either.
If he is intellectually honest he can't use that argument.

Anij, you are correct, he is a communications assistant, and he has professed a hatred for his job and dislike for deaf culture on more than one occassion.
I am very concerned that he is working in that position. His personal feelings might have a negative impact on his job performance. That negative attitude can show up in his voice, and be a real turn-off to the hearing persons on the other end of the line. Unfortunately, the hearing person will attribute that negative impression to the Deaf Relay caller. That is very bad. :mad:
 
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apathrev

Guest
No no. Have no worry about his job performance, his voice inflection is very good, and he never lets it effect his mood. He is usually always in a good mood. He is strictly by the book when it comes to his job, and claims to have recieved 100% on his past 5 monitors.
 

Reba

Retired Terp
Premium Member
You might find this interesting:

http://anthro.palomar.edu/language/language_2.htm

What is Language?

... human language is unique in being a symbolic communication system that is learned instead of biologically inherited. Symbols are sounds or things which have meaning given to them by the users. Originally, the meaning is arbitrarily assigned. For instance, the English word "dog" does not in any way physically resemble the animal it stands for. All symbols have a material form but the meaning can not be discovered by mere sensory examination of their forms. They are abstractions.

...A major advantage of human language being a learned symbolic communication system is that it is infinitely flexible. Meanings can be changed and new symbols created. This is evidenced by the fact that new words are invented daily and the meaning of old ones change. This allows us to respond linguistically to major environmental, historical, and social changes.

Language and speech are not the same thing. Speech is a broad term simply referring to patterned verbal behavior. ..

Over the last few centuries, deaf people have developed sign languages that are complex visual-gestural forms of communicating with each other. Since they are effective communication systems with standardized rules, they also must be considered languages in their own right even though they are not spoken.

If you go to the Gallaudet website you can find more resources but your "friend" will probably pooh-pooh any "Deaf" sources.

I suspect your friend has personal issues deeper than his problem with ASL and Deaf culture. He possibly believes he is "over-qualified" for his job, and is trying to redeem his own self-worth by degrading his Deaf consumers.
 

Interpretrator

Crime fighter
Premium Member
Ask your friend to read some of the scholarly works written about ASL, particularly William Stokoe's groundbreaking research from the 1960s and Ursula Bellugi's linguistic research into how the brain processes ASL. If he doesn't know about any of this then he is in no position to make "opinionated" decisions about matters that are based in fact.
 

Reba

Retired Terp
Premium Member
I dug out one of my old textbooks for this:

"A language is a system of relatively arbitrary symbols and grammatical signals that change across time and that members of a community share and use for several purposes: to interact with each other, to communicate their ideas, emotions, and intentions, and to transmit their culture from generation to generation."

p. 31
American Sign Language, a teacher's resource text on grammar and culture
by Charlotte Baker and Dennis Cokely
1980 T.J. Publishers, Inc., Silver Spring, MD
("Green Book" series)

The authors use the entire chapter to break down the various components of their definition of language, and prove that ASL meets all the requirements.

The rest of the book has chapters on ASL signs formation and variations (region, racial/ethnic group, sex, age, context), nouns and verbs, compounds and contractions, fingerspelled loan signs, idioms, sentence types, time, pronominalization, subjects and objects, sign order and topicalization, body and gaze shifting, classifiers, pluralization, locatives, temporal aspect, inflections for distributional aspect, and other topics.
 

jejones3141

New Member
You might want to ask your friend whether the Cherokee language was a language before Sequoyah invented a syllabary for it. ASL doesn't have tenses, but does have a way to indicate when things happened.

A Japanese speaker might say that English is a language for barbarians, because it doesn't have separate verb forms to indicate levels of politeness...but he'd be as wrong as your friend is about ASL.
 

robbielyn

New Member
now that this thread has been reopened after a year...

I would like to learn some idioms and expressions. Like I know train go sorry, and holier than thou, by a hair.... What are some more? So I can ask my deaf friends how to sign them. Or maybe you all can describe the sign to me if you want. Thanks, robbie
 

Jolie77

New Member
Premium Member
I would like to add this as well - Everyone else on this thread has pretty much covered everything that is said in here.

I thought this would be interesting to bring this up - There is a research group at the Salk Institute working on to invent Sign Writing. Now it might be a little bit complicated to understand the sign writing after looking at this video but once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to understand it easier. Now, with the Sign Writing - They are only preserving the ASL for research purposes and hopefully, trying to get that concept in the educational system.

Here's the video of Sign Writing - Deaf Perspectives on SignWriting® Video 1: How Deaf Opinions Changed - Google Video

It is just a thought that maybe one day it possibly could have ASL in a written language but however I am aware that ASL is not a written language yet.
 
R

rockdrummer

Guest
I didn't post this to debate my friend's inteligence, or lack of. Just know he can hold himself in a debate, and is one of the most well studied people I know. I posted to see what users of ASL's response to his statements would be. Back on topic please. I'm not defending his statements. I'm the student in this lecture, so please educate me.
Well you did say he was one of the smartest people you know. It really sounds like he is not so smart to me. If he was, then all he would need to do is look up the definition of the word "language" and he would see that ASL is in fact a language.

: a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings (3) : the suggestion by objects, actions, or conditions of associated ideas or feelings <language in their very gesture -- Shakespeare> (4) : the means by which animals communicate (5) : a formal system of signs and symbols (as FORTRAN or a calculus in logic) including rules for the formation and transformation of admissible expressions (6) : MACHINE LANGUAGE 1
2 a : form or manner of verbal expression; specifically : STYLE b : the vocabulary and phraseology belonging to an art or a department of knowledge c : PROFANITY
3 : the study of language especially as a school subject
4 : specific words especially in a law or regulation <added language prohibiting further development along the river>
 
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