Advantages of ASL GLoss for SignWriting

Angus B. Grieve-Smith grvsmth at UNM.EDU
Sun Mar 28 18:35:38 UTC 2004

On Sun, 28 Mar 2004, Stephen Slevinski wrote:

> I disagree with deaf knowing only a single language.  It is great to
> start with a signed language, but not learning the native language of a
> country is a big mistake (or so I believe).  To require an interpretor
> to get a job, education, or even deal with a laywer is a mistake.  I
> believe it traps the deaf individual.

        Your argument assumes that the individual has a choice.  I was
just discussing this issue with my wife, who studies bilingual education
among native Spanish speakers in the US.   This is a fairly common
situation among linguistic minority communities, not just Deaf

        There is an elite within the linguistic minority who have mastered
the dominant language.  Some have mastered it through economic advantage
(families who can afford better schooling), some through greater contact
with the dominant group (by being household servants), some just have
better language skills.  But they don't see the difference in their
circumstances, so they base their entire literacy program around the
dominant language and don't understand why people outside the elite can't
be literate the same way they are.  They conclude that the non-elites are
lazy or mentally deficient.

        This pattern has been played out in Spanish-speaking communities
throughout the US, as well as among speakers of non-standard English
dialects such as Black English, Southern English and New York English.
And it's in the American Deaf community as well.  The fact of the matter
is that the only Deaf people who are able to master English very well are
either (a) late-deafened or (b) exceptional language learners.  The rest
may be much more intelligent by other means (with numbers, people skills,
abstract analysis), but just happen not to be very good at learning a
second language.

        You could look at it as "they are trapped by this," but they
really have no choice.  Instead, they are trapped by a society that has
precious few lawyers, teachers and employers who are fluent in ASL.
Telling them to get off their lazy butts and learn some English is futile,
because they just can't.  You have two choices: you can try to help them
achieve literacy in their native language without English, or you can
ignore them and waste their talents.

                                        -Angus B. Grieve-Smith
                                        Linguistics Department
                                        University of New Mexico
                                        grvsmth at
                                        grvsmth at

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