AW: [sw-l] Writing Mouth Movements in Different Cultures

Sandy Fleming sandy at FLEIMIN.DEMON.CO.UK
Mon Jan 31 08:36:02 UTC 2005

In BSL there's a lot of variation between signers when it comes to mouth

At one extreme there are signers - either deaf people with a strong oral
education or hearing learners who started with a particular type of
teacher - who seem to mouth the English for almost every sign. This isn't
considered good - as far as learners are concerned, it's acceptable for the
Level 1 exam but at Level 2 an effort is made to stop doing this, as it's
possible to be failed for not showing enough improvement in the direction of
grammatical BSL.

Deaf people who sign this way sometimes have habits which annoy me! For
example, one such person I know tends to sit on his left hand all the time
as he signs, and lets the English do the work as far as clarity goes. It
seems to me that such signers  tend to repeat words a lot too, which I think
is because they're not always sure that their lipspeaking has been

At the other extreme there are signers who don't really use English mouth
shapes. These people seem to me to sign more smoothly, without continually
stopping to check if they've been understood. I think the fact that they're
using proper grammar obliviates the need for English mouth patterns.

I think the split between those groups is a lot to do with what they think
of as educated. The first group (often older people) seem to see a knowledge
of English as evidence of a proper education, while the second group (often
younger but not always) seem to see the ability to use "full BSL" as
evidence of a proper education.

Of course "full BSL" users use native lip patterns and one reason for
avoiding English lip patterns is that they interfere with those. An even
more compelling reason is that they interfere with facial expressions, which
impairs the meaning rather than supporting it.

For full BSL users, English lip patterns are usually restricted to
fingerspelling for borrowing words from English. This tends to mean people's
names or place names. Often a person will know the sign for a place, but
will use fingerspelling or the sign depending on whether the listener is
likely to know it. It's generally considered impolite to use a sign for a
distant place name, as locals aren't likely to know it unless it's a big
city with a well-known sign. SignWriting may change all this, though  :)

Someone stated earlier on the list that it was almost impossible to speak
Netherlands SL without Dutch lip patterns as NSL doesn't distinguish between
words like "brother" and "sister". I don't agree with this - it's like
saying you can't speak English without French because English doesn't
distinguish between words like "cousin" and "cousine". In BSL you get
problems with hearing people trying to impose gender on the language and
often they'll insist on signing "man-spouse" for "husband" and
"woman-spouse" for "wife" or else using the English mouth patterns to
distinguish, while the fact is that BSL only has spouse and this is a fine
word for it. Not all languages are as obsessed with gender as our Western
European ones - Finnish and Hungarian, for example, don't distinguish
between "he" and "she".

It seems a bit daft that in these days when there's a trend towards trying
to make English more gender-neutral, English speakers seem to be making an
effort to impose gender-specifics on BSL. No one tries to change English to
say "man-partner" and "woman-partner", so why should "spouse" get this
treatment in BSL?


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