Shakespeare in ASL

Enid Pearsons epearsons at RANDOMHOUSE.COM
Thu Jul 8 15:27:57 UTC 1999

I suspect that some of the confusion about this topic results from a
failure to understand the terminology in "myth # 1,"  in particular, use of
the words _phonetics_ and _phonology_.

I'll quote *briefly* from the introduction to the _Random House American
Sign Language Dictionary_ by Elaine Costello, a book I had the privilege of

        "In spoken language, _phonology_ is the study of how basic units of
sound combine to make up a language.   Just as the words in a spoken
language consist of specific combinations of individual sounds . . ., so
each of the "words"--that is, the _signs_ in American Sign Language
consists of a combination of gestures.  These gestural components fall into
certain clearly defined categories:  the _location_ in which a sign is
produced in relation to the body; the _handshape(s)_ used in the formation
of the sign; the _movement_ of the hands used in executing the sign; and
finally, the _orientation_ of the palms.  These four units or features of
signs have been used for descriptive purposes since linguists first began
to describe and transcribe signs more than thirty years ago. . . . Using
all these phonological features of sign language, scholars have designed
intricate notation systems to facilitate written transcriptions of American
Sign Language for linguistic analysis and study."

There is more detail in the introduction, which mentions additional
features of ASL linguists are now taking into account.  But perhaps this
snippet can help to clear up what appears to be some difficulty in
attaching the concept of phonology to a language that does not deal with

))))))))) Previous Notes Mail
cc:     (bcc: Enid Pearsons/Trade/RandomHouse)
From:  "Dennis R. Preston" <preston @ PILOT.MSU.EDU>
Date:  07/08/99 10:19 AM
Subject:  Re: Shakespeare in ASL

Looks like in this discussion we have lost track of what the alleged myths

The primary myths Beverly (if I may speak for her) and I referred to were
the following:

1) That ASL is not a fully developed human language with a phonetics,
phonology, morphology, etc... (and that use of it would be the equivalent
to T&T [Tarzan and Tonto] language).

2) That acquisition of and continuing development in this language would
impede acquisition of and/or development in another.

I do not believe Beverly or I wanted to question the statistic that deaf
children performed poorly in school (any more than we would deny the fact
that children who are speakers of other languages do poorly in school when
tested only in the target rather than in the native language or even in a
variety of the native language which may not really be native).


>In the graduate classes in Audiology at UF and the Deaf Ed classes at UNF
>those students who were not already teaching students with hearing
>requested documentation, which was quickly given.  The debates at national
>meetings of ASLHA and CEC that I attended were never about whether the
>were accurate but why they were so low.  The Chairman at UNF postulated
>hearing impairments were a greater handicap to learning than visual ones
>because totally blind students graduated with higher educational
>than those without impairments while those with profound hearing
>were much lower.
>> At 6:31 PM -0700 7/7/99, Scott or Pafra Catledge wrote:
>> >Probably one reason that the alleged myth persists is that chairs of
>> >graduate programs in Deaf Education give it to their graduate students
>> >an acknowledged fact of life.
>> And do these graduate students passively accept it as an acknowledged
>> of life, or do they ask those chairs for citations and proof?  If the
>> former, can those students be said to be performing at the graduate
>> Ken Miller
>> Darrell Huff School of Statistics

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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