Deaf Culture #2

American Sign Language is the same as English?

Actually, ASL and English are very different.  ASL has its own linguistic structure, slang, and even idioms.  One of the easiest ways to show the difference between ASL and English is to look at the way a sentence is set up.

In English, we use the Subject-Verb-Object-Temporal sentence structure.

Here’s an example: She (subject) went (verb) to the library (object) yesterday (time).

In ASL, the sentence structure Time-Topic-Comment is most commonly used.

Here is the same example in ASL: YESTERDAY (time) STORE (topic) I-GO-THERE (comment).

Another example would be:

English: I saw a movie this weekend.


Sentence structure, or syntax, is not the only way that the two languages differ, however, when it comes to syntax, ASL is closer to Japanese than it is to English.  This helps to illustrate the fact that many Deaf have only a 3rd-4th grade reading level.  It has nothing to do with the intelligence of the individual, but simply because they are reading in a completely different language.  It would be as if you spoke English, but everything you read was in Spanish.  Confusing, right?

There are entire classes and textbooks dedicated to describing the complexities of ASL, but trying to pin down the specifics is tricky because, like English, ASL is a living language and is constantly changing and evolving.

American Sign Language is based on concept?

This is true!  This is another example of how English and ASL are different.  When using ASL, you are not trying to convey a specific English word, you are trying to convey the meaning behind the word.  One sign may be used to convey a variety of English words.  For example, the sign MOTHER would be used whether you are saying “Mom”, “Mama”, “Mommy”, or any other form of the word.  The opposite is also true.  Multiple signs may sometimes be used if the English word or phrase has multiple meanings.  A good example of this would be the phrase “take off”.  This could mean to depart on an airplane, to leave a venue or event, to suddenly gain popularity, or even to remove something or make a deletion.  Because each of these uses has a different meaning, each would require a different sign.

After taking 3 classes of ASL, you will have enough skills to interpret?

As you can see from the two questions above, ASL is a complex language.  It can be difficult to master the ability to convey your own thoughts, and even harder to convey someone else’s.  In order to interpret, a person must be able to listen to the English, understand the meaning in order to convey the concept, rearrange the sentence structure and add the appropriate facial movements and body language in order to follow the linguistic rules of ASL.  And all of this must be accomplished so that the ASL is almost simultaneous to the English so that the Deaf person does not fall behind in the conversation.  They must also be able to do the opposite and change ASL to English in order to convey the thoughts of their Deaf client.  As you can imagine, this is difficult, and learning to do it well takes extensive training and practice.  There are also numerous rules, laws, and expectations that an Interpreter is expected to comply with.  3 classes of ASL will go a long way in helping you to communicate with members of the Deaf community, and it’s a great start on the road to becoming an Interpreter if that is your goal, but there is still a lot more work to be done before you are ready to interpret.

Deaf people have a hard time finding employment?

Sadly, this is true.  Even worse, many times this is the result of employment discrimination, which may be the intention of the prospective employer, or simply due to ignorance on the part of the person doing the hiring.

One reason that a Deaf applicant may be dismissed is because many people find the Deaf to be intimidating.  They do not want to take the time or effort needed to overcome communication barriers, and end up missing out on what could have been their best employee.

Perhaps more often, the discrimination is the result of ignorance or misconceptions.  For example, a prospective employer may believe that Deafness is always accompanied by a mental disability and the applicant may not be able to perform the job.  Or maybe they think that a Deaf employee will need an interpreter with them at all times.  As with Hearing people, every Deaf person has their own abilities and limitations, so it may be that neither of those examples are accurate.

Regardless of the reason for the discrimination, it is often the case that the Deaf applicant is dismissed out of hand, without ever exploring the possibilities


Can Deaf people enjoy music?

Of course!  Each Deaf person experiences a different degree of deafness.  Some may be able to hear only high tones, so they may enjoy listening to Opera.  Or someone who can only hear low tones may enjoy jazz or hip hop.  Some may be able to hear a variety of tones and may secure a pair of headphones over their hearing aids in order to better understand the lyrics.  Even those that cannot hear anything may enjoy feeling the thump of the bass.  And, of course, there are some Deaf people who, like some Hearing people, do not enjoy music at all.