As I mentioned in DWW – Dear Donald, part of my task at Silent Blessings is to respond to fan mail. Sometimes they simply say hello, sometimes they ask about Lisa’s pink hair or Paula’s blue hair, and sometimes they ask bigger questions. Here’s one from today (yes, I changed the names).
This film is 24 minutes long, and worth attention in every frame. It is done by folks in the UK, so they use British Sign Language (BSL), with audio and captions. You may want to have tissues handy.
The interesting thing about facts is, no matter who tells them, they remain true. I hereby invite you to catch the vision of reaching deaf people with the gospel, preferably while they’re young enough to be guided and guarded by it.
Patrick Speaks is a short video about a deaf young man in Uganda, and others like him. They have a unique opportunity, thanks to one person who chose to learn, then return home to make a difference.
At the end, Patrick is granted a sign name…the sign they use means “Smile” in one or more sign languages.
It turns out this video is an excerpt of a 25 minute video titled “15 and Learning to Speak” from the UK channel “Unreported World”. The longer video has an interpreter using British Sign Language (different from American Sign Language).
Enjoy the smiles, and understand the story that is at the heart of deaf culture – the essential need to communicate, and the experience of being alone while surrounded by loved ones.
Once again, a blog article has been bouncing around in my mind, and I’ve come across increased motivation to get it posted. This time, it was being subjected to John Denver’s song ‘Rocky Mountain High’, sung by someone who most certainly is not John Denver. Just as the barista and I were closing our commiseration over covers and trial weeks of American Idol, the rendition took a turn for the worse. It couldn’t end soon enough.
The article I’ve had in mind is another one on perspective – helping hearing people, in the language of the hearing, to empathize with the experience of being Deaf in America. I’m hearing, if my sensitivity to acoustic folk music didn’t clue you in. I speak with Deaf Americans, not for them, in case you don’t know me well enough to be sure.
I know you’ve had experiences similar to the audio assault I addressed in the opening paragraph. Perhaps it was the slandering of your favorite celebrity or some still-budding artist’s impression of a cherished painting. To use a metaphor, it’s like nails on a chalkboard – runs down your spine and commands all your focus not to race for the nearest exit. This, by parallel, is what Deaf people go through when they are subjected to the mangling of their language, American Sign Language (ASL).
It could be the innocent error of signing ‘APOLOGY’ when you mean ‘GRIEF’ for the word ‘sorrow’. It could be the insistence on english-ifying ASL, as though ASL were not a whole and robust language in and of itself. Studies conducted since the 1960’s have verified what the Deaf Community already knew to be true – ASL is a real language with syntax rules and an infinite range of expressive features. As such, it is just as vulnerable to mangling and abuse as any other language people call foreign.
Unfortunately, while some groups were studying ASL to understand its place in the world community of languages, other groups were imposing strange paradigms on it. Imagine, for example, the term ‘butterfly’. You likely see in your mind’s eye a delicate creature resting on a flower or reed with gently moving wings. In one inorganic rendition of sign language, you would refer to that creature as BUTTER + FLY, generating the image of an elongated yellow cube of processed cream soaring through the air. No comparison, none whatsoever, but those are the official hand movements to reference that delicate insect, in that artificially ‘hearing’ version of a visually oriented language. The ASL version, by the way, is a crossing of the thumbs and waving of the fingers in a manner that actually suggests a winged creature with graceful movements.
Many more people, with a strong desire to be helpful and earnest intent to learn ASL, will seek out library books and video tapes. It’s a start, but a false one, fraught with unseen dangers. Take for instance the English word ‘light’… does it mean illumination of tangible objects, an object that illuminates, clear understanding of a concept, the opposite of heavy, or a gentle landing? Each of these definitions may (ok, will) be represented by different hand movements. It may be possible for someone to piece together the understanding, but it most likely will come out like the following:
“Eye knead too meat her at the store two bye sum meet four the party.”
See? Mangled. Manageable, but increasingly painful in large doses. Note that each word is produced correctly, there are no spelling errors, but the concept associated with the words presented does not match the idea that’s apparently being conveyed. It’s rather like listening to someone get all the lyrics right but the arrangement and expression off, to varying degrees of ‘ugh’.
If you are interested in learning sign language, start with your local Deaf community. Seek out community resources that may offer signing classes – perhaps a deaf services organization or a school. It’s ok to take your books and videos along, just remember that they may, for a variety of reasons, be less helpful than you expect. Above all, if your hands don’t know what they’re doing yet, take along a pencil and paper – it’s about communicating, not impressing (or depressing) others. Please also note, if you are met with suspicion, it’s because people may not be sure yet whether you will have respect for the language and community of people that use it. If there was a long history of your language being mangled, you’d be suspicious too.