Monday, July 30, 2012

American English Vs. American Sign Language.

English is a funny language:
You can have a safe, and you can be safe, but you must save the safe.
I hear some people get frustrated when people don't ("won't") learn English when they leave their countries and come to America. But I'd like to point out that English is about as hard to learn as a second language asd Chinese is. If you want proof that there are much simpler languages, try ASL (American Sign Language). Children who are taught ASL as they grow up tend to prefer ASL to their spoken language, and with a good teacher, it's not very hard to learn. In college now I'm learning ASL, my grades are fantastic, I'm learning a different culture, and it's even strengthened my grasp of English.

Once on the Internet I heard of someone referring to ASL as a "broken English". Well that's completely untrue.
ASL is a full language all its own, which belongs to a culture all its own, and while we're at it, it's got a poetry all its own. There are ASL poets (Such as the late Clayton Valli ), Deaf doctors, Deaf lawyers, and a number of other things. Being Deaf doesn't hinder intelligence, nor does it prevent them from understanding a person. Some Deaf people read lips (which isn't a good plan if you intend to communicate for long periods, as it is somewhat innacurate), and many have hearing children or relatives who will be more than happy to translate.

Some argue that ASL isn't a full language. This is wrong, but I can see why some would say "But it doesn't have X!". English doesn't have many things, as well. English doesn't have a word for "feeling as though you have done a thing before", which is why we borrow the French 'Dejavu'. English doesn't have a word for "A witty comeback that you think of a little after it's too late", so the French have 'Esprit d’Escalier'. In Arabic there is a word ("Ya'aburnee") that describes the hope that you will die before another person so that you will not have to live without them. As such, ASL has untranslatable things as well, such as "Cow it", meaning either 'something slow', or 'deal with it'. There is "Train go, sorry", meaning 'you missed the boat'. There are signs for 'Feeling passionate', 'feeling deflated', and like English, there's more than one way to say someone has died. There are many similarities to English, and many differences. Some of the things that seem absent are actually just expressed in a different way, possibly through eyebrows or expression. Many of the things, though, are just not needed. When you say "The dog ran", is the 'The' completely necessary? Why not just say "Dog ran"? Especially if you can point in a direction, or signify if it's someone you know. Perhaps you can say 'A strange dog' to clear up the fact that you're not talking about all dogs? There are many things we do in English that don't make sense if you examine them closely (Saving Safes, remember).

ASL is a full language, it's interesting, and it's quite intuitive to learn the basics. If you only want to know 'in case you run into someone', then it's not a bad plan to try and learn, even if you only get the fingerspelling down. Many Deaf people will be nice enough to slow down and repeat themselves multiple times if you need to, but it's better if you learn the language and have some practice. Many things are intuitive. "Door" looks like a door swinging, "Book" looks like a book opening and shutting, it's really not hard to grasp many concepts. Some are harder than others, but with just a bit of time it can be learnt.

I might post more about Deaf culture if anyone's interested. I'm by no means an expert, but in my short time in class, I feel like I've learnt quite a lot about it. I have an amount of respect, and realize that people who are Deaf are perfectly capable of just about everything hearing people are.

Fun fact: The Football huddle comes from Gallaudet University, a school for the Deaf. The players realized that the opposing Deaf team could read their play signs, so they huddled up to avoid letting the other team know what was up. Now it's a staple of modern Football. Chew on that, and let me know if you'd like me to post more about my experiences learning about ASL.

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