7.1152, Disc: Arabic Sign Language

The Linguist List linguist at tam2000.tamu.edu
Thu Aug 15 15:56:29 UTC 1996

LINGUIST List:  Vol-7-1152. Thu Aug 15 1996. ISSN: 1068-4875. Lines:  151
Subject: 7.1152, Disc: Arabic Sign Language
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                   Ann Dizdar <dizdar at tam2000.tamu.edu>
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Editor for this issue: dizdar at tam2000.tamu.edu (Ann Dizdar)
Date:  Wed, 14 Aug 1996 08:20:08 -0800
From:  hendrik at uvic.ca
Subject:  Disc: Arabic Sign Language
Date:  14 Aug 1996 14:50:40 CDT
Subject:  Arabic Sign Language
Date:  Wed, 14 Aug 1996 08:20:08 -0800
From:  hendrik at uvic.ca
Subject:  Disc: Arabic Sign Language
Dave Harris <dharris at las-inc.com> wrote:
>Pardon me for
>saying so, but all this talk of cultural imperialism is a little
>ridiculous in my opinion.
My previous comment on that issue was based on the experiences i had
while living and working with Saudis, Sudanese, and Egyptians in Saudi
Arabia: i noticed that the perception of cultural imperialism was
quite alive, and unfortunately my German and British co-workers seemed
to be doing all they could to re-inforce that...
>If you want to criticize someone for
>exercising undue cultural imperialism in the Arabic world, I can give
>you a list of American tobacco companies and soft drink manufacturers
>for starters. [...]
You are absolutely correct!
>I still think that you
>ought to get with the deaf people themselves and see what they want.
Absoulutely - but, as i believe, not exclusively...
>You certainly shouldn't rely on what other Arabs want.
I must disagree, but not for linguistic reasons but for psychological
/ socialogical / political reasons: it will be *very* important to
consider what the non-deaf people want when developing a SL within
Arab culture(s) because Arabs are, as far as i my own experience goes,
*very* aware of 'values' and 'culture' - be it as Muslims (where
applicable) or as Arabs (as opposed to 'non-Arabs' or 'Westerners')
who esteem their own culture and history and often feel patronised by
outsiders. Cultural sensitivity is of much higher importance in *any*
teaching / developmental situation in the 'non-Western' world than we
tend to believe - to wit, alosh.1 at osu.edu (Mahdi Alosh) wrote:
>As an Arab, I have been offended by
>the strong suggestions by some repondents to stay away from any
>Arabic-based sign language.
Keeping in mind the question that started this discussion, an answer
must be looked for as much outside of the confines of linguistic
science as inside it...
Thanks: Hendrik
Date:  14 Aug 1996 14:50:40 CDT
Subject:  Arabic Sign Language
Dave Harris wrote:
>American signers use a language so similar to French sign language that
>it is almost entirely mutually intelligible between French and
>American signers -
I did not find it so when I was in France.  Perhaps there is some
truth in what you say, but this was not my impression.  I think the
two languages have diverged much in 200+ years.
> ASL would not make it easier to read a novel in English than in
> Arabic.  If what I said gave you that impression, I am sorry. That is
> not what I meant. I simply meant to point out that literary Arabic is
> an extremely difficult language to learn - right on par with Latin or
> Greek in terms of complexity.
1.  All languages are very complex, and probably equally complex, just
in different ways.  The lack of case marking on nouns and the lack of
overt tense and agreement morphology with verbs makes English appear
simple in comparison with Latin or Greek until you realize how complex
and rigid English syntax is.
2.  Are you suggesting that d/Deaf Arabs should learn the written
language of another country rather than their own because their own
written language is too "complex"?  Why would this only be true of
d/Deaf Arabs?  Should Arab hearing students save themselves some time
by studying English instead of literary Arabic?  Why would Deaf
students need literary Arabic any less?
3.  Don't you think literacy in the language of the dominant majority
in one's own country is important?  Do you mean they shouldn't learn
written Arabic at all, or just literary Arabic?
>If you talk to deaf people, I am confident that you will find them more
>concerned about "cultural imperialism" on the part of their own
>hearing countrymen than from other deaf people halfway around the world.
They should be concerned, and so should we, about both.  There is
nothing wrong with people in other countries learning ASL as a second
or other language, but I am concerned that indigenous signed languages
are being trampled on by ASL.  Find out what they already have in
Tunisia and neighboring countries and build on that, that's what I'd
Many countries' signed languages suffer from a lack of a centralized
place for the language to develop.  ASL has had the benefit of 200+
years of residential schools as a locus for development.  In many
other countries, signed languages have had to develop underground,
often prohibited in school and disparaged by the hearing majority.
Now that there is a chance for real change in some of these places,
let their indigenous signed languages (which almost certainly exist
in some form) have a change to blossom, not to be bulldozed over by
foreign signed language, no matter how widespread and advanced.
- Tony Wright <twright at accdvm.accd.edu>
St. Philip's College
San Antonio, Texas, USA
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