Friday, July 13, 2012

That is NOT asl~~!!

Had I been lied to this whole time? For the past 17 years I'd been telling people that my dad could not hear and was a native user of American Sign Language(ASL).  How embarrassing this could turn out to be!  Not only that, but what about all my show-and-tell projects during school?  Was my ASL presentation during show-and-tell a total sham?  Yep, at just 18 years of age, the fog was cleared from my lenses.  It was sad but true, dad does not sign ASL.

On my journey to become a sign language interpreter my mom was my biggest asset.  After all she had already 20 years of professional experience.  She encouraged me to pursue a career in translating as well, and insisted that I read this book.  I never realized that there was designated jargon for every aspect of what was to me, "just telling my dad what i hear."  (Side note: If you are studying to be a certified interpreter, Deaf or hearing, this book is a MUST read!)  I started to stumble upon languages ancient and obsolete.  The Rochester Method, SEE1, SEE2, CASE... before this book sign language was so simple.  As I read through the description of Pidgin Signed English(PSE) the revelation came to me;  My Dad doesn't use ASL!!

You can imagine the look on my dad's face when I started to rant about his sign language not being conceptually accurate and therefore not classified as true ASL. "You can't say 'MADE-it' because the concept of that sign is 'to create'." "Hello? I went to Deaf school, I am Deaf, I have many Deaf friends, and you, hearing, telling me what is and what isn't ASL?"  I wasn't convinced.  This skepticism was only reinforced upon moving to a new state and learning that my signs were best left on the other side of the border. Sign language, yes, but not ASL!

...If you met my father now you would surely laugh that I ever doubted the validity of his ASL.  In our profession, if you aren't born with humility, someone will give it to you.  I gained a sense of humility from this experience that I hope to never lose.  Parents beware: When you give your child a book... they might read it.

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” - Mark Twain


  1. Many deaf folks in deaf culture use sign language in various ways, many use PSE or Signed English and call it ASL. In fact, it is supposed to be acceptable. I blogged about it once and got reamed by the extremists ASL cops. ahh. Oh, I forgot to mention, I'm deaf (technically hard of hearing) and a full fledged member of the deaf culture.

  2. Thanks for commenting! Yes, I used to run into a similar problem with my grandparents. They were raised in a different generation than me, and often convinced that the language I spoke was not English!! There's plenty of Lingustic cops out there to monitor each and every language *smile*

  3. I'm at the beginning of my quest to be an interpreter, just finishing ASL 2. My teachers have said that Deaf people often to PSE when new or hearing signers are part of the conversation to help them understand. That some Deaf ASL users aren't adept with ASL syntax hasn't been mentioned, but, really it makes sense for a couple of reasons. If a Deaf person primarily signs PSE to hearing signers for clarity, (even when they don't need it) it could become habit. Also, look at how many native English speakers use poor grammar, incorrect pronunciations, and have limited vocabularies. Why would all Deaf ASL users perfectly master their natural language?

    1. McGraws: I hope you stick with it, it's a fun career.