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1) A wonderful piece of writing on sexual objectification, from [personal profile] kestrel: For Sale: The Joy of being sexually objectified (content warning: sexual microagressions treated in a satirical manner)

2) Any time I buy raisins, the package always specifies that they are "Seedless"... I know seedless grapes are a (relatively) new thing, in the history of agriculture... But is it even possible to buy raisins with the seeds in, anymore?

3) Songs originally written for the Hearing, and translated into Sign for the Deaf often make me go "hrm," because a) it often comes from the assumption that the Deaf are "deprived" of music (music, like language, resides in the human mind, and Deaf have their own forms of [visual] music, thank-you-very-much), and b) the qualities of a song that make it musical to the ear are usually lost when translating the lyrics into Sign. But this video gives me all the feels. For one thing, the signers are, themselves, Deaf, and each of the performers has translated the meaning of the English lyrics in their own way -- showing the flexibility and nuance that's possible in Sign. And also, the message of the song itself:

(BTW, at the very last line, the final two performers are signing "We support you.")

4) Oh! The most recent "Inspector Lewis" episode on Masterpiece: Mystery! passed my Disability Test... The young brother-in-law of the murder victim was paraplegic, and a wheelchair user, and he wanted: to get free of his overbearing mother! \o/

5) Another bit of writing that's not from me, but I wanted to share... This time, from Dave Hingsburger: Red and white
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And it needs just shy of 5,000 more signatures to survive to the next round. [ETA: It passed! Just checked the site, now, out of curiosity, and number needed: 0. Number received: 25,132. \o/ Happy Hand-waves! Congratulations to all who sign/ed.]

I signed this petition last month, by the way. But forgot to signal boost it at the time.

[ETA: Oops! forgot the link! Officially Recognize American Sign Language as a Language of Community and Instruction in Schools]

Frankly, even if official recognition would "only" be symbolic, I think it's a good idea (wouldn't have signed it, otherwise). American Sign Language has, as some of its roots, the natural emergence of Sign Language on Martha's Vineyard, as well as the signed languages used as Lingua Franca among the aboriginal Nations of North America, prior to European invasion. In that sense, it's more "American" than English, which is, after all, the language of King George the Third. :-P

This video has closed captions.
If you sign, sign it!

Transcript below the cut )
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On Tuesday, I posted this:

From the end of the second verse [eta: of Mystery Song]:

Reporting live from the frontline
We carry the torch for the ones who're scared to shine

The last verse:

One thing I know is for definite
Soul, body and mind, you got the same benefit
If you trust your heart, there ain't no way of losing it
Keep doing your thing, against all etiquette.
10, 9, 8, start the countdown
7, 6, 5, about to go down
4, 3, 2, 1, sing along now.

ETA #2: At first, I thought I'd just leave it there, and not burden you guys with me gushing on about a language I love but don't live in.

But thanks to [personal profile] trouble, I learned about a video (reported on by Huffington Post) by a couple of ignoramuses claiming to be covering a song in ASL -- but really, all they're doing is flailing their hands about in a stereotypical, audist, hateful way. And then, they're removing and blocking all comments by actual Deaf, Native ASL Signers who are calling them out on it. So I thought I'd put dedicate some of my space to real True-biz Sign Rapping, to thumb my nose at those fools.

The Answer to the riddle I posed (With video of the whole song) is below this cut )

As my mother would have phrased it: "If I could write like that (in a third language, no less), I wouldn't talk to anybody!"
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The Nerdiest bathrooms:

(What ASL I understand -- NB: or misunderstand): Guy is talking about how he likes to go traveling, and when he finds pictures of the nerdiest bathrooms, he collects pictures of them. He's got 8, and then he found a funny video the other day, and thought it would be cool to put everything into one video and share it -- in between the pictures and the video, he pauses to explain that it's about action video games that work through peeing into a urinal, and that's it's got English speaking) Anyway, knowing the taste of my circles, I figured this would inspire at least one Bwa-ha-ha:

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A TED talk-affiliated lecture: TEDxIslay - Wayne Betts Jr. - Deaf Lens

An eighteen and a half minute talk (in ASL) about how the use of a visual language in his everyday life influences how he uses the visual language of film-making to tell a story (Closed Caption Default Track, English). Posted here because I have the impression that I have many film buffs in my circles who are generally interested in How Things are Made, and the ways to Tell Stories, even if you're not interested in American Sign Language in particular.

And then, there are the two films he's made that he cites in his talk:

Vital Signs (3 mins. 19 secs). This one has a captioning track that mentions music and sound effects, but it's actually silent. I suspect that's because the person who uploaded it is actually deaf and would have no way of knowing. But since this was made by a Deaf man for a Deaf audience, the fact that sound is missing doesn't change much.


Gallaudet: The Film (8 mins. 48 secs). This never had any sound to begin with. But he's translated the sign language into English, and embedded it into the film itself, in a way that I think is really cool.
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Well I did threaten -- ahem -- promise to post a collage of Danny Kaye pics, didn't I? Here it is:

danny kaye arm dancing
(Click to view larger)

After this immersion in his work, the thing that impresses me most is how fluidly energy flows through his body -- especially his hands and fingers.

Knowing how well his mind absorbed the rhythms and nuances of so many different languages, I can't help but fantasize about what he could have done if he'd ever been exposed to American Sign Language: Was his genius specifically aural, or was it generally linguistic? If it were the latter, I'd love to be able to go back in time to an alternate universe and see what he could have done with a "ABC Story" (a story where each sign and/or qualifer must be the letters of the ASL fingerspelling alphabet, in order from A to Z; I've often wondered, btw, if BSL and Auslan have similar genres -- anybody know?)*

Links to my sources, with total running time of each clip (so you can get a sense of bandwith before you decide whether or not to click):

Top center: Finale: "Happy Ending" On the Riviera (1951; copyright 20th Century Fox) 9:46 (Song starts at ~6:38)

-- the Ultimate YAY! shot, non?

Perimeter, counterclockwise (starting from top left):

'The Thinker' The Danny Kaye Show (1963-1967; copyright CBS) 6:08

Louis Armstrong and Kaye: "When the Saints go marching in" The Danny Kaye Show (1963-1967; copyright CBS) 4:06

"Triplets" The Danny Kaye Show (1963-1967; copyright CBS) 2:16

"The Maladjusted Jester" (Paramount Studios; 1955) 6:23

"Ballin' the Jack" The Danny Kaye Show (1963-1967) 0:42

-- Origin of the subject line. This was actually written in 1913; I was surprised to learn that "rock" was used as slang for "dance" as early as that.

"Gypsy" The Danny Kaye Show (1963-1967) 2:13

*One of the best examples of an ABC story I could find online: "Checkmate": about two people sitting down and playing chess: "Checkmate" by Rob Nielson, 2008 1:47
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This is closed captioned in English; click the little cc thing:

(the captions say "he," but the sign is actually third person singular, no gender specified. So it's more a fault of English than a "mistake" by the vlogger. English should have a "gender irrelevant, here" pronoun, imnsho)
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The other day, I wrote a "Five Things make a Post" entry, where I said I wanted to live in a round house (preferably at least partially underground). I remember thinking of this as my "Dream house" ever since I was at least ten years old, but it was this video, that I saw on YouTube a bit ago, that reminded me of all the reasons why I want a round house, and that I'm not just a crazy person.

+1,000,000 for the rounded corners making it easier for navigation, especially. Cuz, doods -- the walls at every corner of my house are scuffed up and scratched, because corners are hard to get around, and see where you are, and my chair has little sticky-out bits on the sides that catch on the corners. Also round tables. It's easier for me to pull up close to a round table in my wheelchair, because my joystick makes it hard to pull up to a straight edge without it getting in the way.

Also, the "Good lighting without glare" would benefit visually impaired people, too (even most people who are "legally blind" have some vision, so anything that helps clear vision in general would help them)

According to the info provided with this vid, it was done as an assignment for a college course on Deaf Culture. So while it is very good, there are a few things I would disagree with. The main thing being the conflating American Deaf culture with all Deaf Culture (ASL is the signed language of the U.S., parts of Canada, and smaller parts of Mexico. But if you didn't know that, you'd think ASL was a universal language, just going by the script of this vid). Also, I think the praising of collectivism over individualism is out of place, here, and it strikes me as the vid makers trying to curry favor with a teacher. It may be a better way to form social institutions, but that's a secondary issue to the specific issues of architechture.

Anyway, I know a few people on my f'list are interested in building design and the like, as well as Deaf culture (besides myself) so I thought I'd share this here.

Transcript of the narration behind the cut )
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I've had a bunch of ramdom thoughts in my head for vague-long time, now --each being too random (and/or silly and/or short) to make a post of their own. But I now have a collection:

1) We're living in a musical! )

(Actually, I realized, after I wrote it out, this next one was neither random, silly, or short. But at the time I was originally going to post it, I got so discouraged, I shoved it to the back of my mind and forgot about it, until now)

2) I wanted to squee about a television episode about Justice, but... )

3) And then I found that someone gave a comment I made on a YouTube vid months ago a positive review, and my mood improved again. )

This one is short enough to leave outside a cut.

4) I learned, yesterday, that a newly edited edition of Elias Hicks' Journal has been published. And in the review of this Journal, it was mentioned that his children were disabled (but it didn't say how). And now, I'm kind of itching to buy the book, even though I don't have room in my house for any more permanent editions to my book collection. And I have far too many books still on my "To-be-read" pile. Oh, well.

Elias Hicks was a nineteenth century Quaker who was instrumental in the split of the religiion into two main "sects." He also painted those Peaceable Kingdom paintings; this version is one I've lived with all my life.

5) Now that it's 2010, it's time for the U.S. census to start (PSA; ASL )
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I can hear them. I can see some of them if I crane my neck at the right angle and look out my kitchen window.

I know there is probably a crowd watching somewhere. But I can't get my mind to imagine it.

Oh well,

Here's to scaring away all the nasties, and may the rest of the coming be more happy than not.


PS. In asl, "10" is signed with a thumbs-up.

So: Thumbs up, ever-buddies!
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This time, it's full of holiday cheer!

(Coulton's lyrics, with a gloss for the ASL translation [useful for showing that ASL is, in fact, a different language, with its own sentence structure and grammar] can be found here, in his info section)

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This is something I recently posted as a reply to [personal profile] trouble,*

(Quote) You know, this summer, when I started watching ASL vlogs on YouTube, it was mostly just to remind myself what basic signs looked like (did I remember the difference between "EXCUSE-ME" and "EASY," for example).** And what I stumbled upon instead was a veritable cultural revolustion. ...I've kind of gotten sucked in.

You see, there are these massive aggregate sites (or they were massive, earlier this year) for Deaf vlogs and blogs, called "DVTV" (Deaf Video TV) and DeafRead, both run by one guy. But, apparently, Deaf users were getting upset by the number of people coming on spouting audist (like racist for the ear) sentiments, and were asking this guy to put statements condemning audism, disablism and homophobia in his user guidelines (sound familiar? might be something in the air...). And so far, he's refused. So people are leaving, and just posting their stuff directly to YouTube.

So -- the Tube is full of discussions of what Deafhood is, and what Audism is (and I've been watching the switch from fingerspelling the latter to back and forth discussions on how that should be signed***). It's kind of like watching the Protestant revolution around the time the printing press became a viable means of communication. Rather exciting. (Unquote)

Anyway, I've also seen references to "Hearing culture," which is an aspect of my cultural view-point I'd not considered before. But now that it's been brought to my attention, I can't stop wondering about it.

The thing about (neurotypical) humans is: we think in language. And the thing about heard languages is that we can hear a sound, or receive a message, and have no idea where it's coming from. If someone shouts "Fire!" in a crowd, we run -- we don't care who's shouting, or why.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of lying awake in my bed at night, listening to my parents talking and laughing downstairs in the kitchen, and drifting off to sleep to that, comforted that I was not alone.

On the other hand, this weekend, I kept hearing an excited man's voice through my bedroom window, off in the distance. I couldn't make out what he was saying, whether he was close and unamplified, or speaking far away through a loudspeaker. I couldn't tell if he was simply enthusiastic, or furious at someone. And it kept going on. And it was making me nervous.

...And then, there are the proverbial "things that go bump in the night."

The thing about heard/spoken language is that:

A) it can come to us through the air in a "disembodied" way, and:

B) it travels directly to our emotional, limbic, centers of the brain (via the tone of voice, before the left temperal lobe gets down to work on it) -- reason is not strictly necessary.

But in seen/signed languages, the message is always embodied in the messenger -- to take part in a discourse, you must look the messenger in the eye.

So here're a couple of the questions that've been rattling 'round in my brain for the last week or so:

1) "If Plato had been Deaf, and a native signer, would he have come up with the doctrine of the Real Vs. Ideal?

2) "Is it the disembodied quality of speach (and thereby, thought) in "hearing culture", that has led to the whole mind/body dualism that dominates religious thought, and plagues our medical system?"

...Haven't come up with any answers, yet. But I think the questions are interesting.

(and one of the neighbor's dogs is barking hysterically... again).

*Her post is here: I'm supposed to be marking more midterms

**No, I did not. EASY and ALMOST are closer to being a minimal pair than EASY and EXCUSE-ME, and I'd gotten the three of them switched around in my head -- Though to be fair to myself, all three use the same Bent B handshape.

***Which is an indication that it's shifting its position in the language from a piece of foreign-language-based jargon to having its own culturally-embedded meaning.
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There's a meme floating around our hearing world that poor, suffering d/Deaf people have no sense of music or rhythm, unless good-hearted hearing people translate the songs into sign language for them (and, naturally, throw in some pantomime to suppliment the signs, since sign language is obviously lacking). And, I'm afraid, my last post fed into that stereotype.

So, now, I'm posting an antidote. Your vid players are not broken -- there is no melody or voice-over behind this performance. It was created by a Deaf man for a Deaf audience. And he clearly has a strong sense of rhythm (at least, to my eye -- some of this has been playing as a brainworm in my head).

From what I can gather, based on the written comments, and people replying to replies, it's a satirical review of the book To Become a Human Being -- another "book of wisdom" where a privileged white dude mines the exoticism of the "great aboriginal peoples" for fame and profit.

Much of this vid flies right over my head. It will take a while of guessing and trawling online video dictionaries to fill in the signs I'm missing. So I'll just give the timestamps and translations of the sentences I'm certain of.

And I'll put it behind here. )

...And I'm fuzzy on the ending, where he wraps everything up and gets to the point. I wish there were a handshape-based sign dictionary online (there is one in print, arranged in order based on phonemes, but I find video easier to follow than line drawings). Until then, I'll have to make best guesses on the English words, and type them into the search boxes until I come across the signs I recognize but don't yet know...

Still, this gave me a laugh, even though I missed about half of it.
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This is for [ profile] rustyverse, because a while back he asked about the propriety of signing in music videos, of all things, and this is for [ profile] antikythera, because a longer while back she posted an essay on her blog about how nothing has really changed in our solar system, even though Pluto is no longer called a "Planet":

I'M YOUR MOON (a love song from Charon to Pluto)

When translating from one language to another, there's never an exact word-for-word match-up, and much is left to the decisions and artistic interpretation of the translator. That's why I appreciate that Stephen Torrence includes an ASL gloss of the English lyrics in the sidebar on YouTube.

But, for some reason, he doesn't include appostrophes or periods; and I think it's easier for me, personally, if there are spaces between the ASL (by convention, glossed in Capslock and hyphen) and the next line in English. So I've reproduced them under the cut.

English Lyrics by Jonathan Coulton; ASL Translation performed and glossed by Stephen Torrence: )
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The truth is, as I've been reexamining my relationship to ASL and my tenuous connections to D/deaf acquaintances from the past,* it just feels off kilter to have my journal so music-and-phonocentric. So I'm in the process of coming up with something new.

For those who view everything in your own style, this is a miniaturized screengrab of what I have up on my LiveJournal page, now:

Also, what with the cartooning I've been doing lately, I've discovered that I'm quite fond of black and white. I'm thinking of drawing some new black and white line art for a wallpaper/background design for this page (up until recently, the background for my LJ was a musical score for the song "Vive La Compagnie!" with green and yellow swoopy stripes) -- ferns and vines, that sort of thing. And making a new black and white icon... maybe from one of my monster pictures (I've got several -- I like monsters).

As you can see, I'm stumped for a title (feedback would be welcome). Options running through my head are:

Sticking with "Witty, Meaningful Title (clever subtitle)" or
"Odd Bodikins (and weird wonders)" or
"Gregarious Hermit" or
"Into the Forest (Where the Silly Things Are)" or
"Life is Just a Bowl of Queries"

*(for a whole host of reasons, that I've touched on before, not the least of which, my mother died just as I was studying for my midterm in my first semester of ASL at university... So that was a very intense time for me, emotionally. And the funny thing is, ASL class was where I felt most calm and at peace... maybe spending focused time, thinking in an entirely different language, gave me a break from the relentless, terrified, voices in my head... I dunno; It was during this time that I realized how strongly our my adrynal gland was tied to auditory imput...)
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I didn't know that The New York Times had done a report on our protests, though.

Campus Life: SUNY Stony Brook; Sign Language: Foreign or Merely an Easy A?

(quote) In response to the memo, more than 30 students held a protest earlier this month in front of the administration building and gathered more than 1,000 student signatures urging the university to continue accepting American Sign Language for the foreign language requirement. (unquote)

I remember those protests. We tried to show up at the place where the board meeting was being held, so we could present the petition, only to find out that they had moved the location at the last minute. I remember Dane Spiro (mentioned in the article) leading us on a stealth mission through the library, to try and find which meeting room where they were holed up. That image of him signing "QUIET!" is my mnemonic for that sign.

(quote) Lawrence Forestal, a sign language instructor [he was my teacher! :D], said Mr. Kerth's information on the number of students who received A's was "exaggerated."

Mr. Forestal, who is [D]eaf, urged the the University Senate's Curriculum Committee, which determines student requirements, to allow sign language students and deaf people to address the committee before a decision was made. "How can the committee set such policies without real knowledge of sign language?" he asked. (unquote)

Anyway, I found this article kinda-sorta by accident, in the wee hours, this morning. I'd tried to do a Google search, a couple of weeks ago, to see if I could get a clue to remember my Sign teacher's last name (I only remembered the name sign he used for "Larry" in class), and failed to find a mention of him, then.

What I did find was a long and interesting article on the ways in which Signed Languages do, in fact, meet all the standards for being complete languages in their own right (and in that article, it mentioned how SUNY Stony Brook was one of the first universities to offer ASL as a foreign language). And when I went Googling in the wee hours, this morning, it was for that article I wanted to go back and reread, this time.

I have Google-fu. It just seems to be turned inside-out. :-/

[Edited to add:
I don't know how many As were actually awarded -- I never polled my fellow students. But I worked hard for my A, and I had a leg up on everyone else, because I'd already had some familiarity with the language.

I think it is true, though, that many of the kids in ASL 101 had signed up expecting it to be an easy A... There were many expressions of surprise throughout that course.]
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As you know, I've been fishing through YouTube (now that I can) looking for vids in ASL to help keep those passageways of the brain clear.

One of the sensitive issues among Deaf vloggers is whether or not to provide captions in English. On the one hand, there's the whole question of: we have to cater to you Hearies' comfort level all the time, anyway, why should we expend extra energy to make you comfortable when we're talking amongst ourselves, with what we do to have fun?

On the other hand, not all deaf people know Sign, and signed languages are no more universal than spoken languages (British Sign Language and American Sign Language are mutually unintelligible, for example), so there are those who argue that not putting captions in your vids divdes the D/deaf community.

One guy I've found puts captions on all his vids out of principle, just so that the example is out there, and to prove that it can be done fairly easily. He also puts them in as closed captions, so you can switch between turning them off and turning them on. I like this, personally, as a language learner, because I turn the captions off, so I don't become dependent on them, but then, turn them on to double-check that I've caught everything.

Anyway, I don't like every vlog he does -- a lot of them are funny mostly to his personal friends, I'm sure. But here's one that I think may appeal to the gamer geek / horror spoof fans on my f'list.

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Because I can't see anyway to make the links from DreamWidth (where I'm posting this) with comms as automatically as individual journals, I'm doing it manually. This is a pretty much the same point I made here a couple of weeks ago, but it's still rattling 'round my head as something important, so I'm posting it again, with different wording and different emphesis.
"A Question for Hearing Students of Sign Language (from any nation) in this Comm:"

(For the record, I'm H/hearing, too).

Just curious: what drew you to study the language, and make you want to learn it?

Here's my answer/story:

Earlier this year, discussions of Race!Fail and cultural appropriation broke out on my f'list. Thankfully, I have a classy f'list, and the discussions were good ones.

But they got me thinking about my own fascination with Sign (ASL, in my case), and why I feel my hackles rise when I come across examples of audism in the media, since I am neither D/deaf myself, nor do I have any close relatives or friends who are D/deaf (or HoH).

So I tried to think back to my first exposure to ASL and the D/deaf.

The first and most obvious thing I thought of is the four summers I went to a camp for handicapped kids (I have CP) and we were all taught, and encouraged to use as often as possible, SEE (though the adults told us it was ASL -- Grr.). This just so happened to be right before I hit puberty, so any language bits I learned then tended to stick in my brain.

But then I realized there's more to it than that, because I was fascinated with other forms of gestural language, before I ever attended that camp (such as Native American "sign" -- which was more like an invented, visual, Esperanto than a real language).

Then I remembered -- There was a Deaf man and his Deaf son who were active in the environmental organization my mother was a part of, so, as a kid, I often saw ASL being used out of the corner of my as a normal part of the crowd "buzz." And then I remembered another detail: this man just happened to be married to a H/hearing woman who used a wheelchair.

And this woman was the first adult "Like Me" I'd ever encountered. All the other wheelchair users I'd met were kids my age, and I tended to meet them at the hospital, when we were all there for operations and/or physical therapy, and none of us were in control. All the people in authority were able-bodied.

And there was this woman. I never really got to know her well enough to consider her a "role model," as such. But I could see her out in the front of protests, and organizing things, and being the authority. And conversing as easily in Sign as in English.

So, I think, back in a corner of my subconscious, there's a "Fact" that has taken root that:

Being a Grown-Up = Having a Relationship with the Deaf Community.

...If she'd happened to be married to a German man, I might have an equal fascination with the German Language, instead.

...Such is the tangled web of influences that make up our self-identities...

What about you?

In other news, I finished the final final exam of "Courses" 101-104 had less information, in total, than ASL 101 and ASL 102 did at SUNY Stony Brook. But that's the difference between studying at university, and studying online as a hobby.

Still, it was helpful in reminding me of what I already knew. And I'm kind of sad it's over... Now, I have to take other steps to continue, I think, and make sure I don't get rusty a third time...
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There's a common belief out there, even today, that signed languages are universal -- somehow closer to pantomime than spoken languages -- that native Deaf signers, and CODAs ([hearing] Children Of Deaf Adults), for whom sign is a first mode of communication, don't so much talk about things, in the abstract, as act them out. There's a facet of this meme that somehow, sign is more "natural," and speech is "cultural." If you are someone who idealizes the "natural state" and sees Culture as a corrupting influence, you are going to idealize sign language as "more romantic," and/or "pure" than spoken language, as Rousseau did in his essay On the Origin of Language (1781):

Love, it is said, was the inventor of drawing. It might also have invented speech, but less happily. Not being very well pleased with it, it disdains it; it has livelier ways of expressing itself. How could she say things to her beloved, who traced his shadow with such pleasure! What sounds might she use to work such magic?


If you are of a school of thought that idealizes science and rational explanations for things, on the other hand, as the writers and producers of PBS' NovaScience Now do, you might grudgingly admit that sign is a "real" language, but you're likely to still demand that proof of higher-order thinking be expressed in properly controlled, vocal, communication, as this snippet of a transcript from a recent episode illustrates (July, 2009):

ZIYA TONG: Most mammals make particular sounds only in reaction to a specific situation, like a dog that growls when it's threatened. Efforts to train apes and other land-dwelling mammals to control and modify the sounds they make have largely been unsuccessful.

LEAH COOMBS: Knock. Good. Knock, knock. [Walrus makes a knocking sound in his mouth] Good.

ZIYA TONG: A lot of animals obviously communicate through sound, so what's different about a walrus?

RONALD J. SCHUSTERMAN: What this training shows is they have incredible control over this, so that they can learn to produce these under certain occasions and inhibit them under other occasions.

(you can watch the full video of the segment, or get a link to the full transcript, here).

The main point about signed languages that some people make to argue that spoken language is more logical and require higher-order thinking than signed languages is that signed languages are iconic -- that is, you can just make a picture of what you're talking about with your hands (tracing the shape of whiskers for CAT, for example), rather than assigning an arbitrary sound to the subject. So, the argument goes, signed languages don't really need as much thinking as spoken languages do.

But, frankly, I believe this "common knowledge" is really just a "common falsehood," and that actually, it's the other way around entirely: That it's vocalized speech that is primitive, with a more direct connection to our emotions than signed languages.** And it's really only the power and privilege that comes with being in the linguistic majority that convinces hearies otherwise.

Here's where I give you a bit about how I came to this belief:

When I was going to the State University of New York at Stony Brook, for my Masters in Creative Writing, I had the opportunity to sign up for formal classes in ASL as a foreign language. These classes were total emersion -- all nearly all communication was through sign, and/or reading messages on the blackboard from the teacher (Who was, himself, Deaf, and whose parents had been Deaf), from the very first minute of the very first class. They were Tuesday-Thursday classes, from 8:30 to 10:00 am. Being a college campus, the only students up and about at that hour were others going to that same class, and when we'd meet on the campus walkways, we'd sign to each other, as practice, instead of speaking. And in my case, being a graduate student, my next classes after that, where I'd have to switch back to English to do my work, wouldn't be until well after supper. So: On my "Sign Days," for three-month stints at a time, I'd start thinking about ASL at around 6 am, and wouldn't start thinking about English until at least noon.

It wasn't long before I switched, in my brain, from thinking about ASL to thinking in ASL, at least for some of the self-talk that goes on in my head.

And that's when the realization hit me: That, really, there's one thing -- and one thing, only -- that an auditory language can do that a visual language cannot:

Warn someone who cannot see you of impending danger, such as a falling rock, or a stalking sabre-tooth tiger. Period. That's it. And for that, all you need is a primal scream, really -- something to get someone's attention, so they'll look up from what they're focused on, see the danger for themselves, and run (or bung a rock at it). And really, when you think about it, even our modern, high-tech alarms and auditory warning signals are still little more than primal screams: the clanging of a fire alarm, the ringing of a telephone, the siren of a police car or an ambulance,*** the rantings of Rush Limbaugh...

This was vitally important to our survival as a species, yes, especially since we have binocular vision, and cannot see what's around us very well at all. But it's hardly the sine-qua-non of complex reasoning or the refined delights of civilization and fellowship.

Yes, human beings have evolved greatly since the days when life meant running from a sabre-tooth tiger, and our vocal-auditory mode of communication has evolved to a much more refined state than the primal: "AAuuuuGGhh!" Auditory communication has given us Homer, and Shakespeare, and Mozart. But its roots lie deep in the primative, instinctual parts of our brains, and sound is still used to manipulate our emotions without engaging our reason -- just think how an effective soundtrack to a movie can suck you in even when the script is tissue paper thin.

Now, about that "Iconic vs. Abstract" distinction, and why I wish it would just go away forever:

First: Spoken languages are more iconic than many people realize -- as Roy Blount Jr. points out in his introduction to Alphabet Juice (A book I borrowed from, and returned to, the library, so I can't cite pages) "Sphinx" and "Sphincter" come from the same Greek root word for "Strangle" (the way that the Sphinx killed her victims), and when we speak the 'inx' sound, our throats squeeze shut a little bit.

Second: Signed languages are less iconic than many people realize. I dare say that most of what we think of as iconic elements of signs are actually just mnemonic devices that we're taught after the fact, when we are learning a Sign Language as a second language.

Third: If signed languages are slightly more iconic than spoken languages, it's because they are three-dimensional languages working in a three-dimensional world and so they can be. If spoken languages can't, that's more to do with their weakness than their strength.

Finally: even highly iconic signs like CAT are far from pure icons -- distilling the entirety of cat-hood into a single attribute of whiskerness, is a symbolic abstraction, and further distilling that attribute into a single movement that can be made with one hand is another layer of abstraction.

So there.

So... when I did a poll about what I might post on this topic, a few of you on my LJ f'list said you kind of knew what ASL looks like from TV, but were not really that familiar with it. So I've been searching around for examples of ASL in use by native speakers, that wouldn't, at the same time, be overwhelming and just incomprehensible. I finally decided on this duo (The CODA brothers) -- they're native signers but they also do English voice-overs for their vlogs (video-blogs). Enjoy:

*So... (I thought, as I watched this) you're saying that people who cannot control their voices, either because they are pre-lingually deaf, or have a condition like CP, or Tourrette's Syndrome, aren't as fully human as you are? How special for you!

**I actually believe they're equal (mostly). I'm just reversing the argument completely, to make a point

***Police and Ambulance sirens are actually more confusing than informative because we can't rely on the Doppler Effect to help us determine whether the sound is coming or going, or how fast its traveling. All they do is trigger our adrenyl glands
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And can actually post polls. But I thought maybe people who read DW primarily might have missed it, and I think some of those people have a special interest in signed languages.


So, on July 29th, I enrolled in Signing Online, a for-payment Internet Course for learning conversational American Sign Language (ASL). I decided to go this route because, unlike free sites that will show you a small video, telling you the meaning of a single sign, these courses actually quiz you on how well you understand complete sentences. Granted, it's not as thorough as a real university course, where someone is there to tell you if you actually signed "blow job" instead of "Special." or one of the versions of "F*** You" instead of "Be careful."

But the fall semester of the local community college where ASL is taught was starting too soon for me to feel comfortable jumping in with both feet, and, as I've already studied ASL, I wasn't sure how much I'd be reinventing the wheel. Besides, I can do this on my own, insomnia-driven schedule.

There are forty individual classes, broken into four ten-class "courses," and I've been cramming a bit, doing a class a day, more or less (That's why my posting here has dropped off). This intensity has brought up a lot of memories and thoughts, and I want to talk about them all, but I don't know where to start.

Here are the ideas I've been thinking about. Let me know which interests you most:

The bits about Deaf Culture that I remember from my university class lo, these many years ago

Sign Language in the brain, mostly from Oliver Sack's book Seeing Voices

My Isssues: Let me show you them (memories from childhood, and what shaped my attitudes about D/deafness)

Tech!Geek drool -- TTYs, Video Phones and Vibrating alarm clocks

YouTube videos of jokes told in ASL (I'll find versions of the jokes in English, too), so you can see what the language looks like

Wordplay and puns in ASL

A "Devil's-Advocate" essay on how spoken language is more primative and animalistic than signed language


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