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  #1  
Old 11-10-2006, 05:20 PM
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American Sign Language

Is ASL an equivalent to Russian, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, etc? Why or why not?

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  #2  
Old 11-10-2006, 06:38 PM
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Having no expertise whatsoever I would say no. Though I might say being deaf in and of itself would be equivalent to speaking one of the mentioned languages on some level. Each language's structure and phrasing gives a different window onto thouight that I don't think is matched by using hand gestures in loo of vocalizations. But I should re-enforce that I don't have a clue how sign language is actually spoken, or wether it is qualitatively different than american english.
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  #3  
Old 11-11-2006, 12:23 AM
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all I remember is my spanish teacher pointing out that the manual alphabet does not exactly translate to spanish. Seems one letter in english ("T" I think) comes out as the finger in spanish. Of course another spanish teacher told of how he went around a spanish seminar trying to tell people how embarrassed he was with his poor spanish (he spoke 5 languages), when in fact he was telling them how Pregnant he was. Languages can get ya into trouble like that.
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  #4  
Old 11-11-2006, 07:48 AM
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This site has some interesting info. Here's a quote:

"There are 140 different sign languages known around the world, and dozens more to find. Nearly all of them have been developed by communities of deaf people."

http://www.wycliffe.org/training/signlang.htm

I think that Canadian sign language is even different from American sign language (maybe not 100% but different enough that communication is not guaranteed). When I lived in Korea I had a lot of friends who friends who were deaf. Depending on their ages many of them had never been taught Korean and could not read or write Korean, so their sign language was not really even based on their "national language." For those people their signing was different than those who had been educated in Korean, and who could read and write it, and who had been in schools for the deaf where they also received formal sign training. Some of them would sign differently to me than they would to each other. They would sign in what was as close to gramatically correct Korean so I could understand it, but when they signed among each other I was luck to pick up 10% of it.

I was able to use some of my signing when I went back in August, but I've lost most of it, as it has been more than 10 years since I lived there.

Sign languages are actually very rich and expressive. I remember thinking at the time that signing was probably one of the purest forms of expression of thought.
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  #5  
Old 11-11-2006, 11:47 AM
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I ask because I have been involved in a contentious debate about whether ASL should be a substitute for a traditional foreign language in our core curriculum. My position has been that it should not be because all of our foreign language options are written languages for a good reason. A written language is more powerful than a language only spoken. Written languages have a vast array of cultural resources readily available to the student that are much more difficult to obtain and less extenesive in a language only spoken. ASL depends upon English for its written component, therefore is not an equivalent to other written languages. This doesn't imply that ASL is not a distinct language or a language without a rich culture, only that the study of ASL is not equivalent to the study of traditional written foreign languages.
The fact that cultures with different written languages have different sign languages, may also reinforce the idea that sign language is subordinate to another language if a language is thought to include writing. The contrary view is that videotaping sign language is the equivalent of writing so it is the same as written languages. I think this a partly true, but signers still find writing an important cultural skill and are unlikely to completely substitute writing with videotaping.
I do agree that speaking a language and signing a language are roughly equal.
Is there a deaf ASL or other sign language user here that could comment on this?

420SEL: Why do you think signing is a purer form of expression?
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  #6  
Old 11-11-2006, 12:47 PM
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It's hard to articulate why I find that signing seemed to be a purer form or communication than I was used to. Perhaps it was much more noticeable in Korea, where society shaped the language, and now language works to shape society. Many of the deaf people I knew did not have the opportunity to learn Korean in schools due to their socioeconomic circumstances, and the way society as a whole looked at them (this has changed remarkably since I was first there). I always felt when I was signing with them that I was always getting what was really being "said" with no interference from a structured language. The culture of the deaf community was also different in Korea, of course closer to Korean than our own, but almost independent.

I'm certainly no expert in linguistics, but I do consider Korean sign to have been a third language when I was proficient at it, mainly because I could communicate with a group of people that most Koreans could not.

I do see your point about ASL. I stand to be corrected, but to me, ASL seems like a standardized communication built as another way of expressing ideas in English, without the power of speech or benefit of sound.

I do not think that sign language is subordinate to another language in all cases. For most of the people I knew, if only one family member was deaf, the sign language was standardized to Korean. In other cases, Korean was definitly a second language to some of my friends, and many were amazed that I was able to read and write it better than they were. Through a church connection, I met one impovershed family with a deaf daughter. The mother was deaf, but the father and brother were not. None were well educated. The mother had been sent to prision shortly after the daughter was born for stealing (to feed her family), and the daughter was raised without her. There was little communication between the father and the daughter as he did not sign, and she had never been taught. She had developed a series of basic signs that her father and brother had picked up on over the years (she was about 6 when I met her). There was no resemblance between her signs and standardized Korean sign language.

Nothing I have to offer on this topic is anything other than personal observation, so I don't know how helpful that is in contributing to your discussion in an academic setting. One thing I am fairly confident in is that standardized sign languages were not developed for the benefit of deaf people, as they are able to communicate with each other without a standardized language (the less standardized their signing, the more they seem able to communicate with deaf people of other cultures), it seems more likely they were developed to help deaf people communicate with each non-deaf people and vice-versa.

I had two deaf friends who travelled to Japan on separate occasions. One was well educated and used standardized Korean signing exclusively. She told me she was unable to communicate with any deaf people in Japan as their sign language was different. The other was not as rigorous in using standard sign language, and told me it was not easy, but she managed to get along and made friends with deaf people in Japan.
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  #7  
Old 11-11-2006, 01:46 PM
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I don't like viewing English as somehow the mother of ASL. It's Anglocentric at best, at worst, it's discriminatory. Two points:

First, we are unable to understand the extent of the depth and breadth of experience which native ASL signers have compared to native English speakers. Just because it doesn't translate well into our mother tongue, or any other for that matter, doesn't marginalize ASL as a legitimate language. Frege type intensions and connotations may be distinctly different between two languages. In fact, there's some question as to whether two speakers pointing to the same object are, in fact, pointing to the same "object." But as empathatic as we may be, we cannot "be" the other person. It's my guess that their experiences are as rich as ours. If you allow that, you then have to allow that ASL is a legitimate language.

Second, for the deaf, ASL is a native tongue, and written English is subservient to ASL. Native ASL signers grew up learning ASL first, and then written English. We, as native English speakers, may choose learn Chinese in terms of English, and it's the opposite for a native Chinese speaker. Flip flop it, there's no difference.
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  #8  
Old 11-11-2006, 02:08 PM
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Nobody's arguing that English is the mother of ASL, or that French is the mother of FSL. What I'm saying is that to my knowledge, ASL or FSL or BSL, whatever the sign language is, has never evolved into a written language independently of some other language. Hence if we want students to study a written language, there is something inherently problematical in equating ASL with a written foreign language.
I'm being accused of being discriminatory by other people also. But it's clearly not anglocentric because the situation applies in any culture with any written language which also has a sign language as a subset of that broader cultural language. I'm saying ASL is the equivalent of any other spoken only language but it is not the equivlent of another language which includes writing.
The issue comes down to the power of writing in language, culture and in particular universities. The reason that most (every?) western university has offered written foreign language to students in their core curriculums is that written languages are more powerful than spoken only language. Spoken languages have evolved into written languages but I don't know of any written language that has changed back into a spoken only language.
There are thousands of spoken only languages in the world, and I don't think it's just a matter of discrimination that these languages are not traditionally considered equals of written languages in education. I might even go as far as to think that the reason we require Math of all college students is that it is a more powerful language than English, French etc although I'm not as sure about this.
By the way, Galaudet University only accepts written foreign languages to meet their foreign language requirement. (no mention of ASL, FSL etc). When I brought this up to the people accusing me of being discriminatory their answer was that such a requirement was the deaf discriminating against the deaf!
Let me have it.
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Last edited by kerry; 11-11-2006 at 02:24 PM.
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  #9  
Old 11-11-2006, 02:14 PM
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BobK,

If your Spanish teacher knows enough to teach Spanish he certainly should know that the Spanish word for pregnant and embarrassed are the same word. Sexiest as it may be that is the case.
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  #10  
Old 11-11-2006, 02:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kerry edwards View Post
Let me have it.
Nope. I'm not letting you have it. ASL cannot have a written counterpart because the signing is itself the written part.
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  #11  
Old 11-11-2006, 02:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kerry edwards View Post
I ask because I have been involved in a contentious debate about whether ASL should be a substitute for a traditional foreign language in our core curriculum. My position has been that it should not be because all of our foreign language options are written languages for a good reason. A written language is more powerful than a language only spoken. Written languages have a vast array of cultural resources readily available to the student that are much more difficult to obtain and less extenesive in a language only spoken. ASL depends upon English for its written component, therefore is not an equivalent to other written languages. This doesn't imply that ASL is not a distinct language or a language without a rich culture, only that the study of ASL is not equivalent to the study of traditional written foreign languages.
The fact that cultures with different written languages have different sign languages, may also reinforce the idea that sign language is subordinate to another language if a language is thought to include writing. The contrary view is that videotaping sign language is the equivalent of writing so it is the same as written languages. I think this a partly true, but signers still find writing an important cultural skill and are unlikely to completely substitute writing with videotaping.
I do agree that speaking a language and signing a language are roughly equal.
Is there a deaf ASL or other sign language user here that could comment on this?

420SEL: Why do you think signing is a purer form of expression?
You have a point about the writing, but I think a lot of people have a difficult time learning a language on paper. Therefore the vast array of written resources may not be as useful to them as practicing speaking with someone who knows the language well. I know that for a lot of people immersion is the only way they will become competent in a foreign language, i.e. they have to live in France or Russia or wherever for a while. Videotaping would be useful in learning sign language, however. I've tried to learn some signs from books and it's not impossible but it is very difficult.

I know a few people who sign, and how you do it is fairly personal. Everyone has their own 'slang.' I'm not sure the differences in sign language around the world have a lot to do with the spoken/written languages in those parts. At least some of the differences are due to the fact that like written and spoken langauage, different groups of people invented different ways of doing it with minimal input from people from other parts of the world. It may be that a lot of the differences are in fact due to the different rules of grammar and syntax in various written/spoken languages, though. I don't know.

I would also say that in the future, more people are likely to be using sign language. Many people who aren't capable of speech wouldn't have been taught jack in the past, except by their parents, but modern day schools are much, much better at teaching students with disabilities. In addition a lot of babies and young kids are being taught sign language because it allows them to accurately communicate things before they are able to speak.
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Old 11-11-2006, 02:29 PM
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Viewed from an academic/administrative perspective, I think ASL should be considered a foreign language in terms of meeting language requirements.

I remember back in the dark-ages grad students had to demonstrate written proficiency in two languages and spoken proficiency in one. Where and when I was in grad school we were allowed to substitute a computer programming language for reading proficiency. I was gonna take LISP but a CS friend of mine said it wasn't worth the effort because in a few years LISP would disappear. I had a LISP interpreter on my Apple II+ that somebody had written in Applesoft BASIC. Talk about spaghetti code!

Kerry, are foreign language requirements still found in universities?

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Old 11-11-2006, 02:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Kuan View Post
Nope. I'm not letting you have it. ASL cannot have a written counterpart because the signing is itself the written part.
I meant let me have it as 'fire at will'.
Why is the signing the written part and not the spoken part? My detractors are arguing that the written part of ASL is a videotape or film. My take on that is that if the signing or videotape were the equivalent of writing, ASL users would never need to write. They do write. No ASL college student could complete college without writing because writing is so fundamental to the success of our species.
I'm not thinking that ASL is not a 'valid' language or that it is not good or useful to learn it. I'm just thinking that it's not the same as learning a written foreign languge.
I'm not sure about the expansion of sign languages in the future because cochlear implants may reduce the need for it. From what I've read, they are very controversial in the deaf community because if they become widespread they undermine deaf culture.
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  #14  
Old 11-11-2006, 02:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Maroon 300D View Post
You have a point about the writing, but I think a lot of people have a difficult time learning a language on paper. Therefore the vast array of written resources may not be as useful to them as practicing speaking with someone who knows the language well. I know that for a lot of people immersion is the only way they will become competent in a foreign language, i.e. they have to live in France or Russia or wherever for a while. Videotaping would be useful in learning sign language, however. I've tried to learn some signs from books and it's not impossible but it is very difficult.

I know a few people who sign, and how you do it is fairly personal. Everyone has their own 'slang.' I'm not sure the differences in sign language around the world have a lot to do with the spoken/written languages in those parts. At least some of the differences are due to the fact that like written and spoken langauage, different groups of people invented different ways of doing it with minimal input from people from other parts of the world. It may be that a lot of the differences are in fact due to the different rules of grammar and syntax in various written/spoken languages, though. I don't know.

I would also say that in the future, more people are likely to be using sign language. Many people who aren't capable of speech wouldn't have been taught jack in the past, except by their parents, but modern day schools are much, much better at teaching students with disabilities. In addition a lot of babies and young kids are being taught sign language because it allows them to accurately communicate things before they are able to speak.
This raises an interesting issue. Our system will not accept any Conversational XXX as a foreign language. All foreign language courses must include written language. I'm thinking this is an essential component of all universities which privilege writing over speaking. This seems justified in my mind, because without writing we wouldn't have universities.
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  #15  
Old 11-11-2006, 03:45 PM
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What is the justification for requiring a foreign language?

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