A Deaf perspective

Angus B. Grieve-Smith grvsmth at UNM.EDU
Mon Mar 29 03:50:04 UTC 2004

On Sun, 28 Mar 2004, Adam Frost wrote:

> Are you Deaf, Hearing, Deaf later in life, etc...? The reason I am
> asking is because it would help me understand what you are talking about
> and from what point of view. No, I don't have anything against you if
> you are anything other than Deaf. I actually commend you for wanting to
> learn SW and ASL (or which ever SL).

        I'm not offended; I know how the Deaf have been taken advantage of
by paternalistic hearing people, so I have no problem identifying myself
as hearing, and therefore a potential threat.  The Deaf people on the list
should take my words as information from someone who has studied issues of
language and power (an "ally"), not as advice from a hearie who thinks he
knows what's good for them (an "advocate").

        I'm born hearing, from a hearing family.  I've always been
interested in languages, and I've studied ASL off and on since I was
eighteen, about the same time I started studying linguistics.  I had my
first real conversation with a Deaf person in 1993, when I met Drucie
Ronchen, who teaches ASL at the University of Chicago; she's also the
first person who told me about SignWriting.

        I've scaled back the amount of time I spend on sign linguistics,
in part because I feel like I don't have enough contact with the Deaf
community to have a sense of what Deaf people really want their computers
to do.  I've seen enough hotshot hearing programmers who've never met a
Deaf person blow tons of money and time on some half-baked idea for a
sign-language program that's not going to be useful to anyone, and I don't
want to be one of those.

        So for now I'm sitting on the sidelines and occasionally throwing
in my two cents.  I think one of the most valuable things I can contribute
is the notion that while the Deaf experience in the US is unique, it has a
lot in common with the situation of linguistic minorities around the
world, and can benefit from learning about what tactics have succeeded or
failed for the Irish, the Chicanos, the Catalans, the Finns and so forth.
That and taking down hotshot hearing programmers when I can.

                                        -Angus B. Grieve-Smith
                                        Linguistics Department
                                        University of New Mexico
                                        grvsmth at unm.edu
                                        grvsmth at panix.com

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