Put your SIGNS aside

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Strolling through information via online sources (I use the word strolling instead of scrolling because I feel like I’m literally strolling down web pages to find information), I luckily rolled over some pretty cool images of two deaf signers. Besides the fact that both were very attractive and seemed to have the most “attitude” in their signing body language (a good thing in the signing world), the only noticeable difference between their gender was that one was White and the other was Black. The male (White) signed in a more closed space, used one hand gestures, and seemed to not move his mouth as much through his oral communication. The woman on the other hand (Black) signed in a more open space, used both hands rather than one, and showed a lot more facial expressions through her oral communication.

Being a bilingual student of American Sign Language, I find these facts intriguing. The pictures jumped off of the screen and into my bedroom as I watched two very different signers communicate in very different ways. The woman (whose name is Carol, she is also a professor at The Galludet School for the Deaf) explained how she became bilingual at a young age by attending a White school for the Deaf in Alabama. As a black woman, Carol didn’t understand any of the signs the White students used and found herself literally stuck when it came to communicating. She mentions in the article that after a while her Black counterparts and herself had to “catch on” to the White signs while teaching their peers their Black signs. Some may think this is fact of having White & Black vernacular in sign language weird, while  others may care less. I on the other hand found this interesting.

I wasn’t surprised only because as a black signer, I use signs that are different from other races. I also take longer to sign a simple phrase or sentence. I find the signs that Black signers use seem more theatrical and long-winded. These may tie into how black signers differ from White signers and how races differ from one another in general. What I will do is study this more in my Capstone Project. What I won’t do is give you all of the information you think you want to know about American Sign Language.

Any questions? You’d have to try your hardest to ask me through sign language! This is of course a joke; even I have the ability to take a deep breathe, repress my deaf-ness and put my signs aside.


3 thoughts to “Put your SIGNS aside”

  1. “Being a bilingual student of American Sign Language, I find these facts intriguing.”

    Kaylnn, I’m curious what two languages you are referring to here by the word “bilingual.” Of course, most readers would take it as meaning that you are familiar with both English and sign language. However, as someone beginning to become more familiar with your topic, I think “bilingual” could also take on a much deeper meaning. As you alluded, because there are many different ways of signing WITHIN sign language, these styles can actually become languages in themselves. So, as your topic demonstrates, your familiarity with both black and white signs makes you truly “bilingual” in this sense as well.

    I’m not sure if you intended it that way or not, but I think it’s really interesting how this double meaning is so relevant to your area of research. Thoughts?

  2. The story that you illustrated about Carol truly is both interesting and surprising. The fact that she could not understand at all what was going on when she was in a white school makes me think about the implications that that may have outside of the world of sign language.

    I know nothing about the history of sign language, but there are a few things I wonder that perhaps you may be able to answer. Did black and white sign language originate in the same place and then branch off or did they grow as completely separate languages? Also, do you intend to delve into the psychological aspects of the fact that these two exist as opposed to one singular language?

  3. Hi Kaylnn,

    I’m in the gateway course and I’m also in fourth semester ASL.

    It’s interesting to me, though not entirely surprising, that there is such a difference between black and white signers of ASL. It is not surprising because every language is heavily dependent on cultural influences. We have learned many signs in my ASL classes that differ depending on where you are in the country (California signs sometimes differ from Michigan signs). Still it is interesting that the language would differ so much that Carol could not communicate with the white signers. That is definitely something interesting to look into.

    I’d love to know how your project turns out!

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