Sign Language and Deaf Culture have always fascinated me. Throughout my studies and watching television shows about deafness, as well as other media sources, I have loved the beautiful dance of communicating through one’s hands. This article is a very brief overview of sign language and deaf culture, which I have included several links to YouTube videos so you can watch sign language instead of just reading about it.
1.Sign Language is Different All Over the World
There is around 300 different forms of Sign Languages spoken all over the world. The most common/most heard of is ASL (American Sign Language). There are about 70 million deaf people who use sign language as their first language and it has been around as long, if not longer than spoken language. Just like spoken language, signing has developed and changed throughout time as words, meanings, and talking have changed.
2.Sign Language Does Not Reflect Spoken Language
There is British, Czech, Australian, French, German, and so many more different forms. Because of this, there are no “dialects” or “accents” in the way we normally think about it, but instead different hand gestures to indicate different words…even the alphabet is different for each language. Moreover, the signs also don’t reflect the spoken language so that it’s actually easier for people who communicate through American Sign Language (ASL) to share and receive information to a person who signs French (LSF) rather than Australian Sign Language (Auslan). Even though ASL and Auslan are both “English,” ASL is derived from LSF rather than Auslan is from British Sign Language.
Watch this video for more information on the differences of sign language around the world!
3.Grammar in Sign Language is Very Different
There are a great number of rules for each language, usually different and separate from its based location language. For instance, in ASL there is no “be” verbs: am, is, are, was, and were. There is also no articles such as: a, the, and an. Another rule in ASL is that the time frame has to be established before the rest of the sentence. For instance if you wanted to say, “I fed the dog yesterday” you would sign “Yesterday I fed dog.”
4.Sign Language is More Than Hand Signs
There is also no use of “tone” so, you have to use facial expressions and body language as well as your hands to communicate what you mean (i.e. annoyed that you fed the dog, glad you fed the dog, etc…). While it may seem complicated to think about, it is very natural when one is conversing with friends.Just like as an actor, one can say “I love you” and mean “I hate you” or “Thank you” or a number of other things, signing uses all the same principles to communicate.
Watch this video on using body language and facial expressions to ask questions in ASL!
5.Brain Injuries Can Impact Signing, Not Just Speech
Most people know that brain injuries can impact speech and basic motor skills, well for deaf, or deafblind, this can hinder their only means of transmitting thoughts.Being aware of this can promote patience with anyone with a brain injury.
6.They Can Do Everything Hearing People Can Do
The biggest mistake anyone can make about Deaf people, or people who need to sign is that they are unable to do normal things. That they are somehow stupid, or lacking in some way. This is completely and utterly false.Just because a deaf person cannot hear, does not mean that they can’t drive, or discuss science and abstract thoughts, write and perform poetry, or even tell jokes. They have a unique, beautiful, different style of telling stories and living life that is all their own; that is just that.It’s just different. Deafness is a culture all over the world that should be respected, celebrated, and learned.
Watch this video called “Deaf People Can Do Anything, Except Hear” by clicking on link above!
7.Deaf Culture in the Arts
Recently Deaf Culture has been more and more popular and there are beginning to have deaf characters in TV shows, and even plays/musicals are having interpreters learning the show and signing what is being said on stage. While this is great, there are several movies that are completely signed that are full-length films in ASL. One film is a classic take off of Dracula, entitled Deafula.This 1975 movie was the first ever horror movie to be shot in ASL. The musical, Spring Awakening, recently closed on Broadway and it was a musical catered to the Deaf. This may seem impossible, but the musical is actually about Deaf kids in a German Boarding School. This elaborately cued musical brought a whole new depth and beauty by using real Deaf people to create and play these characters. Deafness does not prevent enjoying music either and there are so many videos of people signing lyrics with emotion in time to the actual music.
Watch this link for how Spring Awakening became a musical for the Deaf!
Click this link for “Home” by Phillip Phillips performed in ASL by a Deaf Film Camp
I encourage that everyone should learn at least some sort of pidgin sign language-it is a beautiful, big culture that should be recognized more in media and in everyday life. While it varies all over the world, you never know what opportunities you are opening yourself up to or what friendships may come your way just by learning how to sign. While this article is very brief and is just an overview of Deafness and Signing, I hope you learned something and maybe have become fascinated with this culture/language just as I am.