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Sign Language Translator
Posted: 18 September 2007 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I’m confused by the idea that written English is different from ASL.  I know they’re two completely different languages, but if you’re literate in written English then why would have have a hard time communicating?  Spoken and written English differ widely, and most (sensible) people don’t write the way they speak.  Reading a work in ‘authentic’ dialect can be a very trying prospect, even if you have no problem understanding it when spoken.  We’ve all learned at least two versions of our language, and I don’t see why a deaf person wouldn’t go through the same process.  I’ve never had an issue dealing with the writings of deaf people, though I admit that they probably would use a form of shorthand among themselves.  But that’s no different from teenaged kids texting each other.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Charybdis - 18 September 2007 07:51 PM

I’m confused by the idea that written English is different from ASL.  I know they’re two completely different languages, but if you’re literate in written English then why would have have a hard time communicating?

I’m not sure what you don’t understand. 

Written English is different from ASL because they’re two different languages.  You can transliterate Greek for example into the Roman alphabet, and you don’t get English (or Latin, for that matter)—you just get transliterated Greek.

Edit:  For clarification:  by “a different language” that means that ASL is NOT a different mode used to express English (like Morse Code or the Braille alphabet).  It has its own syntax, its own parallels to phonemes and morphemes, etc.  ASL and BSL (both used in English-speaking countries) are also two different languages from each other.  (There are some interesting borrowings among these languages—just as there are among spoken languages whose users interact.)  There are also deaf people who use SEE (Signed Exact English) or other systems based on English—and that IS merely a different mode of expressing English.

The part I bolded above is the big “if”.  Plenty of ASL users have little to no English.  As I mentioned before, that’s changing more and more with improvements in cochlear implants and emphasis on non-signing education (but most students educated that way usually don’t use ASL but one form or another of signed English or a pidgin of ASL and English, or no sign at all).

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Posted: 18 September 2007 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Most deaf children don’t start learning to read at the same time as hearing children do.  The initial focus is on getting the child to learn to communicate.  Once they’re past 3rd or 4th grade…and the child has a full range of communication in sign…then the reading & writing starts.  You can’t sound out words…so you have to find another way to get them to understand letters & words.

ASL does things sort of backward from regular English.  Just like in Spanish, you use the subject first or whatever.  “To the store, I go.”  The same thing is true for ASL.  But if you translated that…it would be “I go to the store.”  Sort of??  Maybe Joe can explain it better…but that’s how I always understood it.

My friend Bobby can come over to the house & b/c I have forgotten all but a few phrases/words in sign, we write back & forth on a notebook.  He doesn’t have a problem with it at all…but when he started (when he was about 10 or 11), he had a lot of problems with it.  During school he was also taught to read lips.  If I happen to start signing, and I forgot a word, or just don’t know it, I place my index finger under my lip and speak the word.  I don’t know if that’s just something Bobby’s family made us do when he was learning to lip read…or if it’s a more universal thing.  But it signals that I am going to speak a word instead of sign it.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 04:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Ah….we were probably typing at the same time.  That’s so confusing.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 04:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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I’m not talking about people who were born into non-English environments, I mean children born to English speaking/reading parents.  I can understand them learning to read at a later stage of development, but aren’t they expected ultimately to have a minimum understanding of written English like any other child?  If you’re literate in the written form of English then you’re already familiar with the grammatical structure involved.  It might be very different from what you’re used to ‘speaking’, but that’s more or less true for non-deaf readers.  I don’t expect everyone to be brilliant with it, but I do expect them to be able to make themselves understood just like I expect it of anyone else who comes to it natively.  I’m not seeing why it would be harder for a deaf person.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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In other words, I know English as a spoken language and again as a written language.  I would expect a deaf person born in an English-speaking country to learn English as a signed language (whichever flavor they learn) as well as a written one.  Some even learn it as a spoken language, but I understand that not all of them would.  I don’t see the difference between a deaf writtten English and a non-deaf written English.

I am aware that written English can be spoken, but is that not also the case with signing?  It might seem long-handed (so to speak) to do so, but then speaking written text can as well.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 05:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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B/c the grammatical structure & syntax are totally different.

And a hearing child grows up listening to the sounds of words.  They know that “mom” starts with the mmmmmm sound.  Even babies know that mmmmmmm ooooooooommmmmm is “mom”.  But even by copying the movements of the mouth, there is no guarantee that a deaf person will understand the letter “m” “o” “m”.  When you say the letter “m”, your mouth makes a different shape than just going “mmmm”.  Making the letter your jaw, tongue, & lips make dinstinctive shapes.  Just sound out “mmm”, all you have is your lips pressing together.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 05:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Part of the problem was that for a long time when linguists examined sign language, the users would automatically code shift to try to facilitate communication—so the linguists were seeing something more like signed English (or a pidgin—simplified grammar, for instance, to the point of having few features of a real language).  Still, ASL has been recognized as a real and distinct language for at least 20 years by now.

I don’t know if ASL is considered a strictly a post-positional language.  Generally modifiers follow nouns.  But, the thing you were talking about, Maegan, is called “fronting” where, regardless of case, you can put the noun phrase that is the “theme” of the sentence in front.  So a direct object, for instance, can be the first sign.  (IIRC, in linguistics, they call this the “Theme-Rheme” approach.  And I admit, it’s been ages since I learned this stuff, so don’t rely on what I say.)  The nominative case noun phrase isn’t necessarily the “theme” or non-grammatical subject of the sentence—so you can put whatever is the theme in front.  It’s done in informal English too.  “Money—that’s what I want” instead of simply, “I want money.”  (In the second one here, “I” is the grammatical subject, but the “theme” of both these sentences would be considered “money”.)

Oh—another cool phenomenon that Maegan’s post reminded me of:  home signs.  (Again, this is more about the way things used to be.)  Unlike most speakers of a language, the majority of people who use ASL don’t learn it at home (because their families are very often hearing).

In urban areas, that works fine—the kid usually has a pretty frustrating early childhood, and then a pretty powerful experience the first time he or she meets the Deaf Community and is exposed to ASL. 

In rural areas, there is often no Deaf Community, so they just make do.  They’re usually taught English and have a very difficult time in school, and at home, just for expedience, the family ends up inventing signs for everyday use.  These are just signs corresponding to English words (and usually only concrete nouns)—no grammar or anything like that.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 05:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Maegan - 18 September 2007 09:01 PM

B/c the grammatical structure & syntax are totally different.

And a hearing child grows up listening to the sounds of words.  They know that “mom” starts with the mmmmmm sound.  Even babies know that mmmmmmm ooooooooommmmmm is “mom”.  But even by copying the movements of the mouth, there is no guarantee that a deaf person will understand the letter “m” “o” “m”.  When you say the letter “m”, your mouth makes a different shape than just going “mmmm”.  Making the letter your jaw, tongue, & lips make dinstinctive shapes.  Just sound out “mmm”, all you have is your lips pressing together.

I know I learned to read by soundling letters out, but now I can understand what mom means without sounding.  I realize it might be harder to learn to read, just as it is harder to learn to sign.  But once they learn to read and write shouldn’t they be indisinguisable from a non-deaf writer? 

It sounds like you’re saying it’s harder to learn, but what you said earlier seemed to indicate it was harder for them to understand after having already learned.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 05:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Charybdis - 18 September 2007 08:47 PM

I mean children born to English speaking/reading parents.  I can understand them learning to read at a later stage of development, but aren’t they expected ultimately to have a minimum understanding of written English like any other child?  If you’re literate in the written form of English then you’re already familiar with the grammatical structure involved.

Again, the big “if”.

It can be prohibitively difficult for a profoundly deaf child to learn English.  (Again, a different story nowadays with cochlear implants.)  I heard one person say to imagine you’re trying to learn Japanese by watching someone speak it through a sound-proof glass window.  How do you get from his mouth movements to those little marks on paper?

I know when I learned to read and write, we started right in with phonics.  You “sounded out” words.  Even as an adult (who happens to have studied linguistics some in grad school), I still experience times when I know a sentence is wrong, but the only explanation I can give is that “it just doesn’t sound right”.

Also, the critical age for fast language acquisition is really young.  The more you delay, the more difficult it can be.

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Posted: 18 September 2007 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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That’s a really good point, Maegan and Joe, particularly about the big differences in grammar and syntax, but still…people who can hear often know what a written word means even if they don’t know how to say it. I mean, I can remember using epitome, and using it correctly, long before I realized it wasn’t pronounced EP-eh-tome.

Sense and sound are not always linked all that closely, not in a language like English when ou can be pronounced like the “ow” sound in bough, like the “oh” sound in though, like the “aw” sound in thought, like the “uh” sound in rough and so on.

So while I’m quite sure deaf children need to be taught to read in a different way than hearing children do, I don’t think it’s quite as black and white as that hearing children “know that ‘mom’ starts with the mmmmmm sound” whereas deaf children don’t. We all know that though ends with a long-o sound…but that doesn’t help us much when we start reading and we discover that -ugh on the end, does it? Those of us who can hear all know that circle starts with an ess-sound whereas deaf people don’t…but how helpful is that since it doesn’t actually start with an “s”? There are so many exceptions to what most of us think of as the “rules” of English spelling as it relates to pronunciation, and how both of these relate to sense, and those are lessons that both hearing and deaf children have to learn.

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