Deaf Culture #12

It is not unusual for deaf people to have difficulty with the English language?

This is true.  The English language is incredibly complex.  We have words that look the same but mean different things, sound the same but are spelled differently, odd rules for pluralizing, and that’s just the beginning!  Add the fact that for most deaf individuals, English is their second language, as well as the linguistic rules of ASL being completely different to those in English, and…well…it’s pretty easy to see why deaf people may have difficulty.  They are not alone either.  Most major publications hire a “copy editor” whose only job is to correct the spelling, grammar, and syntax of the writer’s work.  Many native English speakers, born and raised into the language, and taught how to use it at every stage of their schooling, still struggle to follow all of the complex, and seemingly ever changing, rules.

Deaf people prefer to use the TTY than a videophone?

This is the perfect follow up to the previous question.  It is true that the majority of the deaf community prefer to use a videophone to a TTY because, when using a videophone, they can use their native language of ASL.  Using a TTY requires the user to be able to write, read, and comprehend English.  While this is certainly possible, it would be rare to find anyone, deaf or hearing, that would feel more comfortable conversing in his or her second language.

Another reason that the videophone is preferable is for linguistic nuances and non-verbal cues.  Head nods, eyebrow movement, and eye gaze are a few examples of “non-manual markers” and are extremely important to the meaning behind what is being said, and are how ASL users display prosody, or voice inflection.  If you think about your own English conversations, you will notice that you use the speakers voice inflection to understand if their comment is rude, sincere, sarcastic, or even funny.  These nuances are lost when the conversation is in text, and the speaker’s intent can easily be skewed.  Anyone who has ever opened an email or received a text and thought “What do they mean by that?” has had first hand experience as to the clarity that inflection can add to a message.  Videophones can add back in the meaning that simple text is lacking.

Deaf people use flashing lights to indicate a knock or noise?

They sure do!  Many Deaf homes have lights that will flicker to indicate that someone has pushed the doorbell or that the phone is ringing.  There are also lights installed on the smoke detectors to indicate when there is a fire, and many Deaf have a pillow or pad on their mattresses that will vibrate when their alarm goes off in the morning.  The world that we live in is very much centered around sound which means that accommodations must be made so that the Deaf have equal access to the information that Hearing people receive through their ears.

American Sign Language is becoming more popular under World Languages?

True.  With advances in diversity requirements, more and more members of the Deaf community are gaining access to equality in both the educational and professional worlds.  Because of this, more of the hearing population is becoming familiar with both ASL itself as well as ASL Interpreters.  The extra exposure has created an interest in the language, which in turn, has led to schools adding ASL to their foreign language offerings.  This change in attitude towards ASL is a huge advantage for the Deaf because the more people that know ASL and understand Deaf Culture, the more equal access there will be for the Deaf.

American Sign Language is more popular than Signing Exact English?

This is true for many reasons, and those who use ASL will likely share their opinion with you, loudly and vehemently.

The main difference between ASL and SEE is that ASL is a language, while SEE is not, nor was it ever intended to be.  SEE is a system that was devised to help Deaf children learn English.  The system is cumbersome, requiring nearly twice the number of signs as the same sentence in ASL, as well as adding hand shapes to indicate some words and word endings such as: the, is, -ing, -ed, etc.

Not only does SEE remove the beauty of ASL, it also changes the structure.  SEE, like English, is a linear language.  One thing leads to another, and you must wait until the end to get a clear picture of the concept.  ASL begins with the picture, or the concept as a whole, and adds to it.  Here is and example:


“The boy is climbing the tree.”

TREE-BOY, and show him climbing up the tree.


(Words in bold are signs or movements that do not exist in ASL)


As you can see, a lot of the magic is missing.

SEE should not be confused with PSE (Pidgin Signed English).   PSE is ASL in English word order.  While it is not a language, nor is it as beautiful as ASL, it is accepted as a mode of communication in the Deaf Community.