How written Deaf sounds?
July 25, 2007 8:16 PM   Subscribe

When translated into English, do different locality's sign languages read - or sound - very different?

Or, for that matter - do deaf writers tend to write somehow differently from hearing writers? Any examples?
posted by unmake to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Remember first of all that ASL (and this also applies to other sign languages) is not a literal interpretation of English. It is its own language with its own grammar and vocabulary. So when a signing Deaf person writes in English, it is a different language than when they sign - as though a native English speaker were writing in French for example.

So if there are any differences in written voice; its likely due to English not being a first language more than the writer being deaf.
posted by heh3d at 8:41 PM on July 25, 2007

Best answer: Sign language isn't universal; there's a difference between American Sign Language and British Sign Language, for example, that's much more significant than the difference between American and British accents or slang.

And yes, the writing is different, as well. While most hearing-impaired people are able to write in their native oral language (i.e., a British or American person whose first language is a sign language can probably read and write English), there are some significant differences in grammar that show up in writing. You can repeat a word in American Sign Language, for example, to add emphasis, and sometimes this will show up in writing. There's some pretty decent discussion of this kind of stuff in this thread; particularly spot-on is innocent bystander's comment that "written" American Sign Language is nearly incomprehensible to English readers who don't sign.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:48 PM on July 25, 2007

It's not English, as heh3d said above. That said, you're also going to find all the same linguistic differences between sign languages that you would find between written and spoken languages - word order, vocabulary (i.e., Japanese [among others] doesn't distinguish between blue and green, while Russian makes distinctions for colors that English speakers just call "blue"), idioms, common phrasings. Those could influence how a given utterance is interpreted or translated.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:50 PM on July 25, 2007

Written English is necessarily an acquired, rather than a native, language for most deaf Americans. As a result, there is copious evidence of language problems when writing in English. A friend of mine is a speech pathologist and sent me reams of articles (okay, a couple) in the past about this problem. I imagine a quick trip to Google Scholar and a search for Sign Language written language will pull up droves of material.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:38 AM on July 26, 2007

By the way, with the exception of particularly gifted or young language learners, many hearing ASL "signers" who learned ASL at a later age (including the parents of deaf children) sign with a strong noticeable "accent" and make many ASL grammar mistakes.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:51 AM on July 26, 2007

Last comment, I promise: you might also want to look at some Deaf Blogs. I imagine since they'll be written in a conversation and informal style they might best represent how Deaf maps to written language.

Also not to be missed: Deaf youtube videos (not all of these are signing, so you have to search through them). This video seems to describe the problem deaf people have with written English (I get this from the summary, I don't know Sign).
posted by Deathalicious at 3:21 AM on July 26, 2007

IANAS (I am not a Signer)

Another important distinction, which was already worded perfectly by Wikipedia so I'll just copy-paste it:
Manually Coded English (MCE) is a general term used to describe a variety of visual communication methods expressed through the hands which attempt to represent the English language. Unlike Deaf Sign Languages which have evolved naturally in Deaf communities, the different forms of MCE were artificially created, and generally follow the grammar of English.
People in Deaf culture can feel very political about the issue, because they feel it's important that their language be acknowledged as a part of their culture, and that it's not just an imitation of spoken English.
posted by RobotHeart at 9:31 AM on July 26, 2007

I think I can answer the latter part of your question - as I mentioned in other threads, my father's side up the family up to and including my grandfather were all deaf mutes. The cards/letters/notes I've seen from them were definitely different - structure, tone, etc... I'll have to see if I can get my Dad to dig up some of my Grandfather's letters for more concrete examples.
posted by Liosliath at 5:05 PM on July 26, 2007

Incidentally, I've recently been hanging out with some Deaf Egyptians. They have their own sign language which appears to be heavily influenced by International Sign Language but also shares features from Arabic (the numbers are based on Arabic [i.e., Indian] numerals), as well as its own unique forms.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:25 PM on August 2, 2007

Deathalicious: Do you mean Gestuno? (Which I guess is now better known as ISL.) My impression has been that Gestuno isn't really a language so much as it is a mixture of other signed languages (in any given conversation, primarily the S.L.s of the people involved), and Wikipedia suggests that as well.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:32 PM on August 3, 2007

I have no idea what they "call" it and for sure it wouldn't be called Gestuno in Egypt, anyway. My friend, who has lived his whole life with deaf relatives and knows basic signing, says that it is Egyptian sign language, not international sign language.

For sure numbering is Egyptian/Arabic. There's no question of that.

Here are some signs I know (I know very few), see if you recognize them:

American -- hands at waist level, making gun "pow pow" gestures (gun=cowboys=America)
Do you want anything (forefinger and middle finger together slightly bent, touch between chest and mouth)
Congratulations: right hand moves forward sort of like you're chopping the air
Generic "everything's cool, nice to see you"-forefinger and middle finger together, hand out, fingers pointing up, hand moves in a small circle clockwise.
Egypt - hands make shape of the Pyramid
Sunday-middle finger crossed over forefinger (same sign for Christian)
Wednesday (I think--might have my days mixed up) forefinger and thumb touch, on neck
Thursday (again, might be earlier/later in week, but comes right after previous sign) forefinger and thumb together, on nose
Father-hand under chin somehow, maybe in a fist?
Thank you -- salute
posted by Deathalicious at 9:33 AM on August 4, 2007

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