Shakespeare in ASL

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Jul 7 00:33:09 UTC 1999

Fortunately such stuff is being very carefully researched (and I meant to
raise no political issues, only to state a very well-agreed on linguistic
commonplaces among linguists who have devoted their lives to ASL research,
hardly anecdotal evidence, not would the principal lingusitics groups in
the US submit resolutions based on anecdotal or politically correct

To call ASL a dialect of French takes a little piece of historical
information and makes far too much of it. That is at every level (phonetic,
phonological, morphological, not to mention syntactic and pragmatic) more
than a little off base.  Morphological elements of ASL, for example,
pattern in a very different way from French morphology (of any historical
period or variety). In addition, ASL phonetics and phonology are hardly a
pretense, as many careful studies show.

Applied linguistics, as always, is harder, since we may not have all the
variables in hand, but the fact that ASL learners do so poorly (on some
tests) would seem to be about like suggesting that I would do poorly on a
Chinese test. It's not my native language, and I have very little control
over it. I would turn out to be lower than first grade. If you want to know
someone's langauge proficiency, you must test them in the language they
know (not the one you think they should know, which does, at last, I
suppose admit some of the political fervor which surrounds much of this


>In Deaf Ed classes, we studied the basics of ASL, Signed English, and Signing
>Exact English.  Of these, only SEE morphology, but not even it made a pretense
>of phonology,, much less phonetics.  All the languages studied had syntax,
>semantics, and pragmatics, of course.  The morphology of ASL seems more
>complex than English to the naive English learner because ASL is a "dialect"
>from French, not English.  I have yet to hear an explanation of why students
>who learn ASL are such low achievers when the few students who are fortunate
>enough to learn SEE do as well as if not better than their hearing classmates.
>Unfortunately, it is politically incorrect to research such a point, and we
>are left with only anecdotes.
>> One can only hope that the gist of this does not lie in the direction which
>> I first understood. ASL, of course, is a fully developed, complex human
>> language (with a phonetics, phonology, morphology [much more complex than
>> English], syntax, semantics, and pragamtics). The idea that it is
>> Tonto/Tarzan talk is simply a misunderstanding of the phrase "sign
>> language."
>> Further, the idea that learning it (and becoming proficient in it) would
>> "retard' one's ability to read and/or write English is unfounded (similar,
>> in fact, to the popular notion that children's acquisition of a second
>> language might retard their advancement in their first or, more insidious,
>> that continued development in their first might retard their acquisition of
>> a second, the apparent foundation of "English Only" and anti-bilingual
>> education measures roundly condemned by every responsible professional
>> linguistics organization (e.g., LSA, AAAL).
>> dInIs
>> PS: One nice thing (among many others) about being from the South Midland
>> (i.e., Hillbilly) area is that nobody wants to translate Shakespeare into
>> our variety, since the popular press has told us that us shit-kickers
>> already speak Elizabethan English.
>> >Just pretend that you are Tonto/Tarzan.  Why do you think that deaf students
>> >graduate with an average achievement level of 3rd grade, as I was told in my
>> >graduate Deaf Ed classes at UNF.
>> >
>> >----------
>> >> Is anyone familiar with translation of dramatic works into American Sign
>> >> Language?  I am assisting a dramatist who is in the process of translating
>> >> _Twelfth Night_ into ASL and I am looking for works on translation and use
>> >> of ASL in drama.
>> >>
>> >> If you're interested, the website for this project can be found at:
>> >>
>> >>
>> Dennis R. Preston
>> Department of Linguistics and Languages
>> Michigan State University
>> East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
>> preston at
>> Office: (517)353-0740
>> Fax: (517)432-2736

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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