[sw-l] mouthing in the EU

Sandy Fleming sandy at FLEIMIN.DEMON.CO.UK
Sat Feb 26 08:32:18 UTC 2005

Stuart wrote:

> In Hungary, I'm told by a friend, there are a number of signs that are
> actually distinguished by the Hungarian mouthing that accompanies the
> sign. So you can't really know what meaning is intended until you know
> the Hungarian mouthing that accompanies it. That seems to be something
> that is prevalent in European sign languages that I don't really notice
> as much here in the US.
> That is my understanding of the difference.  Am I misunderstanding
> something?  I hope you Europeans can help me understand this better. I

When people put forward this "signs are distinguished by mouthing the oral
language words" argument they miss some crucial points.

Firstly, it's not the _signs_ that are distinguished, it's the _meanings_
that are distinguished.

Secondly, these meanings are distinguished in the oral language, but this
doesn't mean to say they have to have words - or signs - distinguishing them
in the other languages. It's like the French cousin/cousine in English, or
even many words in my Scots dialect, such as *"gar" and "mak" which are both
"make" in English, or *"stour" and "dist" which are both just "dust" in
English. I don't feel a need to fingerspell "stour" while saying "dust" in
English just because I grew up speaking Scots dialect!

So the whole statement about Hungarian vs Hungarian Sign Language is
meaningless unless more carefully phrased. Even then, I would take it with a
pinch of salt unless it was backed up with numerous examples of things which
_couldn't_ be said in the sign language without "help" from the oral
language. In fact, this can't really happen because when there isn't a word
for something in a language there's either always a phrase that's used
instead, or clarification is done in some other way. For example, not being
able to distinguish between cousin/cousine in English doesn't mean that you
can't easily make the other person understand the gender of the cousin
you're talking about!

It works both ways. In BSL we only have one sign for husband/wife, but
that's OK. In English we don't have a word that means  "could you two shift
over?", but we don't resort to BSL to express this!

*"gar" means "to cause to"'
*"stour" is "dust in motion".


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