Friday, September 30, 2005

Deaf missions and ASL classes going well

So far, I've had three Wednesday night beginning American Sign Language classes, and they've all gone really well. I've had about the same number of students (give or take two or three) in every class! I consider this a success. The same people have come back three times, and seem to be enjoying it.

Most have purchased the text book that the Board of Evangelism bought, so I've turned that money back over to the board to reimburse those who spent the money in the first place. For most people, it seems, $20 is reasonable enough for a book that teaches beginning ASL. I certainly agree, especially since some of my textbooks for school have cost at least $75!

I'm starting my Saturday class tomorrow afternoon. I'm expecting a smaller turnout, but with some people who have not been able to come to the Wednesday night class for some reason or another. So far, I know for a fact that my sister, my mom, and Jeff (the one my husband refers to as "the virgin of fireworks") have all said that they're going to the Saturday class, plus four others whose names I won't mention since I don't have their permission. That's seven people for Saturdays, and about 12-15 for Wednesday nights! Cool, huh!

Now that I've been teaching the class for a few weeks, and I've been drilling them on the alphabet and am teaching them more numbers during every class, I'm teaching them the lessons that are in the book, which consist of complete sentences with sign illustrations. There are some signs that I know to be different in the actual Deaf community, so when I come across them in the book, I teach the class the way the signs are done in this part of the country. Since I'm the instructor, I have ultimate authority to do with the lessons as I please.

Also, and I have yet to announce this to my students because I don't want to scare them off, there is a Deaf Ministry workshop coming up on Nov. 5 in our state's capitol, Topeka. There will be at least 20 Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals there who use sign language to communicate, and they're all members of the LCMS. In addition, there will be at least two LCMS pastors there who know sign language!

As you have probably already surmised by the previous paragraph, I'm planning to attend this workshop, and I'm going to invite my students to attend, too. There's nothing for them to fear, even if they feel a bit intimidated to talk with the Deaf and hard-of-hearing, because there will be plenty of people there who don't know much sign language, and they get along just fine because there are so many people there who do. Plus, it's the perfect environment for my students to use what they've learned and learn even more. Once they see that what they're learning is useful and readable, I'm sure their confidence will be boosted, too. I just hope they can make the 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive up to Topeka for the workshop.

Something interesting about this workshop is that the pastor of the church where it's being held is the step-dad of the profoundly deaf boyfriend I had when I was in eighth grade! In fact, it was his family who taught me how to sign, although it was Signing Exact English, which is not accepted in the Deaf community.

SEE is used in the school systems for the sole reason that teachers don't think Deaf children can read or write proper English unless they're taught to use a sign system that is exact English. In other words, it's a bastardized version of ASL in which prefixes and suffixes, as well as tenses, have been added to make it more English-like. Also, the same sign is used for the same word regardless of the context in which it's used.

Example: My nose is running. Ryan decided to go running. The water is running.

Obviously, the word running is used in three different contexts here. In ASL, it has three different signs, but in SEE, the same sign is used for every context. ASL is conceptual, while SEE is not. Conceptual meaning that the signs generally look like whatever they represent.

Hey! Now you know more about the difference between the two sign systems! Aren't you glad you decided to read this today?

Anyway (I'm really good at digressing, huh!), I'm looking forward to seeing how my sign students will react to the possibility of going to a workshop where they can learn more sign language and more about Deaf Missions, too! Have to wait until November 5, though.


Styria said...

This is just like how they tried to apply the rules of Latin to English a few centuries ago. It's stupid and a complete misunderstanding of language, but thankfully usage wins out in the end at almost every point.

But how do you express tenses in ASL? By adding one sign that denotes the past or a future intent? And how are new words created — i.e., is it a living language, which will change over time?

Mrs. T. Swede said...

I'm glad you asked!

Tenses are denoted by body movement (forward for future tense, back for past) and also the inclusion of time periods (yesterday, tomorrow, etc.). Facial expression is also a big part of ASL. With it, you can change a statement to a question.

Also, new words are added mostly by the need to have a sign for a word that doesn't already have a sign. You could call them shortcuts that allow you to use an agreed-upon sign rather than fingerspelling everything. The more the shortcutted sign is used and shared with others in the Deaf community, the more it will be accepted as a real sign.

This is also how different signs are used in different parts of the country. Older signs are generally alike, but those that have developed with technological advance and changes in culture are more likely to be different in various regions. They're similar to accents.

Therefore, yes, it is very much a living language, and yes, it most likely will change over time with more technological and cultural changes. It's like any other language: it changes to adapt to the time.