A question

Stuart Thiessen smt_sw at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 25 00:47:01 UTC 2002

I think it is difficult to assess a true response when you can only have
"poster sessions."  Your opportunity to explain the system are limited, and
you certainly can't explain anything in depth.  From what I have observed
personally, the issues blocking widespread acceptance are:

1) Lack of exposure.  I would say 95% of deaf people don't even know SW
exists.  How can they have an educated response without information?

2) Inadequate or negative exposure.  Many deaf who are against SW are
against it because they didn't get a good exposure.  For example, one deaf
showed SW to another deaf in my presence by simply saying, "Can you read
this?" with the attitude of "Isn't this so hard to read?"  Well, if that is
how SW is introduced to them, of course they will not accept it.  This is
probably not something we can avoid, but we need to develop ways of
explaining SW short and sweet so that they can see that there is a lot of
common sense underneath the apparent complexity.

3) Prevailing Myths.  One of the most common myths is this concept that sign
languages cannot be written.  Most deaf people are not even aware of how
writing systems function and expect that writing systems are phonetic.  They
do not realize that writing systems are phonemic at best.  So, their
contention about the impossible nature of writing sign languages is based on
an assumption of writing phonetically, not phonemically.  Some people say
that deaf people are an "oral" culture (not in the sense of speaking, but in
the sense of being a non-literate culture).  Some of that may be true.  But
I am not certain that being an "oral" culture necessarily means one cannot
use writing.

4) Power.  Deaf who have learned English do have a certain "power" or
"status" in the community.  I suspect that having a writing system for ASL
will upset the "balance" of power in the community.  Deaf who haven't been
able to have a voice in the community could start having a voice in the
community.  Further, there is probably this idea still that English is _the_
written language and ASL isn't good enough for writing.  That will inhibit
people's desire to learn.

5) Lack of literature.  Without something to read, will people learn a
system of reading and writing ASL?  I think that limits people's interest.
They want something out of the effort.  If they expend the effort to learn,
but have nothing to read, why learn?

6) Technical Support.  I know Valerie is working very hard to reduce this
issue with SignBank and the hopeful SignWriter 5.  Nevertheless, they remain
as issues because one way to handle issue 5 is to get more technical support
for SignWriting on computers.

7) Handwriting/Shorthand.  I think the printed form can be a stumbling block
sometimes.  I understand that we need the printed form to understand
handwriting or shorthand.  However, we need to have a system for explaining
how people can write quickly and by hand and not need a computer to do SW.

All are resolvable.  I think it is simply a matter of finding ways to
increase exposure and improve tools.  But it needs to happen through others,
not Valerie.  I am not saying that because she can't.  I'm saying it because
she has so much on her plate already that she doesn't need more.  This needs
to come from the SW community.  We have to find ways to explain to the
larger deaf community why we find SW helpful and begin to make a stronger
case for it.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Barbara O'Dea" <odeab at UNM.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, July 24, 2002 16:57
Subject: A question

> I am a linguist, a teacher, and a researcher. I have been on the
> list for quite some time and I have a very good friend and colleague
> on a dissertation dealing with children learning SW.
> Here's my question: What can we learn from the fact that there was not a
> large response to SW at Deaf Way II (from a North American perspective, at
> any rate)?
> I am hoping for some serious discussion of this question from from
> linguistic and cultural perspectives.
> odeeodee

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