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ETA: Apparently, my communication skills are really failing me tonight. This post was briefly locked, but I have had it pointed out to me that that's mishandling it too.

Basically, I'm a pile of giant fucking fail here, in one way or another, and I am not, right now, managing to work out how I should say what I'm trying to say, and am, instead, saying things that read like I don't want them to, and right now I can't fix that. So post is cut, enter at your own risk, and I will not be looking at the post, or at comments, until morning. /ETA

I think this has been percolating since Blog Against Disability Day. I can't find the link, but I read a post by a deaf person who talked about how, despite the fact that she could write in English well, it felt like an unnatural second language to her.

I've read and been told that sign language is not, in fact, a mapping of English to gestures; the syntax and modes of expression are actually different.

This makes perfect sense to me, as a linguist; a one-to-one mapping wouldn't be the best way to make sign a natural language.

What sort of doesn't make sense to me is that, therefore, sign doesn't have an accompanying orthography. For written communication, deaf people in English-speaking countries are expected to use English.

On the one hand, it's important for them to be fluent in the language of the society that surrounds them, in order to be able to communicate with the hearing.

On the other hand, though, this means that deaf people cannot write in their native language. They are literate in a second language, but forced to be illiterate in their native language.

This? Is a problem. One that needs solving. I might make an attempt at it if I were planning postgraduate studies in linguistics rather than history, but I don't actually think I'd be a good person to do it. I have zero fluency in sign language, and even if I were to learn, I would be learning it as an adult, and one learning it for purely academic purposes at that. Ideally, developing a written form of sign language should be done by someone who is fluent with it and grew up with it.

Since sound value correlation with orthographic symbols is totally irrelevant, there should be some kind of link between the alphabet/quasi-syllabary that is at least somewhat intuitive, so that someone reading it would have some idea of how to link it to the gestured, "spoken" form. It's fine if this takes memorisation, in the same way that learning to read English involves memorising the ways in which letters represent sounds, and are modified by other letters, etc, but it has to be doable and reasonably consistent.

The ideal person to do this is a deaf person with some training in linguistics, who has grown up with sign language, and who has some talent for graphic design, to develop an alphabet/font that is clear.

Obviously I still think deaf people should be taught the written language of their society, because isolating them from the ability to communicate with the hearing population is a Bad Thing, but I find it a troubling wrongness that deaf people are forced to be illiterate in their native language.

Actually, I've just had an idea. This is the Internet.

Some of you must know deaf people.

Clearly we need to get a bunch of deaf people, and interested graphically-talented people, and people with some linguistics knowledge together, and work together to make a kind of community project of developing the Sign Orthography. Preferably from several countries, in the hopes that Sign Orthography has at least some common usefulness internationally, since as far as I know not all sign languages are the same. The deaf people can work on it, with input from other people who want to help out, and linguists can watch and point out if they've made any obvious-to-linguists mistakes, or if they can see ways to solve any problems that crop up.

If it comes to something like "designing a written form of an existing language", there's no reason why we can't get a bunch of people together and do that, now is there?

*creates a comm*

[redacted]

Let's get on this. For reals. Let's make the world a better place.
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From:[personal profile] lauredhel
Date: June 7th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
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You know about Signwriting, right? And Stokoe notation?
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 7th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
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Nope. *googles*

Okay, signwriting won't work. It could be used as an aid to learning, I can see that, but it's not what I'm talking about in terms of developing a real alphabet for sign language; the diagrams are too complicated, and not conducive to being used to write novels or poetry, from what I can see.

Whereas Stokoe notation is basically, from what I see, the sign language IPA. It works for gestural description, but it requires too much in the way of detailed diacritics for feasibility as something to be read fluently, or rendered compatible with, say, typing. There's a reason we haven't dropped the Roman alphabet for IPA notation.

It could perhaps be a starting point, but I'm talking about an alphabet, not a notation or a reduced form of making a series of pictures. Something which can work as quickly and quasi-intuitively as the Roman alphabet does for literate native English speakers. It works natively for us because it's our first language, and because we absorbed links between the letter and sound value when learning to read. (It's a link that some people studying phonetics and phonology actually find it difficult to let go of.)

I'm talking about an alphabet in which deaf people can write novels that burn across the page for them, in which deaf poetry retains its beauty written down, in which passion and flair can translate to the page.

Possibly it'd end up being something which children learn by rote, the way we learn our alphabet, where the shapes can be described with Stokoe notation but really, [symbol] means [movement] Because It Does, in much the same way [t] means "unvoiced alveolar plosive" Because It Does. But there has to be a way to make this work properly.
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From:[personal profile] willow
Date: June 7th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
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I am... confused. Search engining brought me to:
http://www.signwriting.org/
http://www.signgenius.com/sign-language/sign-language-a-written-language-read.shtml

And then I come back and read your comments and read you, a Hearing person, deciding that the written language isn't conducive to novel writing or written language the way you define written language as a Hearing person.

Is the point I'm missing something linguistic to do with linguists? Or am I seeing a Hearing person, who's interested in the fact that Sign Language (all of them) should have multiple forms, the performed and the read, and who wants a written sign language to be something she (or another Hearing linguist leaning person) can immediately identify as language, in that it should look just like Hearing language written down.

I'm not deaf. I do not - I now know one deaf person. But I've no idea if she uses sign language or not.

I could be tripping up with privilege all over the place and I accept that, and pre-accept any calling out I may get.

But I need to ask, why does a written mode of any of the Sign Languages have to look like hearing language written down? Why does it have to have an alphabet? Why does it have to fit a standard keyboard (or at least that's what I understand you to be saying). I do not believe that Braille fits a standard keyboard (I could be wrong though).

Who defines what 'properly' is? And why do they get to define it like that? Especially if they're a Hearing individual?

Also, for the Deaf who are Japanese or Chinese and use that writing system, - which in my innocence I will say seems to be shapes that have been simplified, modified and implied over many years. How does that fit into your idea of a written language?

Since there is an opportunity in those languages for thought-concepts of layered meaning, represented by one symbol? Those languages are admitted/accepted as complex, so much so they already have a simplified form (used for children's books). Wouldn't creating a third language for the Deaf there, be complicating an issue?

Also, is it true to say that that (those particular) written language(s) is inauthentic in matching the signed language created by that community of the Deaf?
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 7th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
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I found similar links. The problem I perceive with it as a written language is that it's essentially diagrams of the movements, which makes sense, but is problematic for printing something novel-length, with necessary size.

I'm not saying it should fit a standard keyboard, at all. Or should look like existing written languages. What I'm saying is that my experience is that there exists, in at least one person, a sense of alienation that she doesn't have access to a written language that feels natural to her, and I see this as a major problem, because I believe languages are important. That people need to be able to tell their own stories, and if she can't, that's an injustice.

I tend to perceive injustice as being something that lessens everyone.

I'm not saying it's something I, personally, can control fixing. I have known deaf people all my life, but those particular people hate sign language and think it's stupid, so I never exactly had a lot of incentive to learn it - the only deaf people I had a direct interest in communicating with would have told me off for trying. (They consider sign language actually immoral and a tool of the oppression of the deaf, more or less.)

Ultimately?

Language is something I care about, deeply and passionately. I am genuinely distressed that even one person feels she has no language in which to write.

I'd had a shit of a day and was trying to find something positive to focus on, a way to try and help someone. As it turns out, I didn't think it through well enough, and I compounded that by expressing myself really, really badly.

I can cite historical precedent for orthographies coming late to established languages, like Gutenberg and Sequoyah, but it's not really the point. I was wrong.

I can't undo that. I can't undo any of the ways I've fucked up today. Knowing one of the others ended with me getting sutured and pools of my blood spattering half my house, it shouldn't feel like this is the worst, but it does, and I still can't fix that.

So yeah. I fail, I fucked up, I alienated [personal profile] lauredhel completely, and I really regret all of it, but I can't undo it, and I don't know what else to say.
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From:[personal profile] lady_ganesh
Date: June 7th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
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There's a real challenge to this from a linguistic perspective-- ASL is almost a written language in itself, but it's pictograms, not components. I don't know if ASL can be written down to the equivalent of phonemes or not.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 7th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
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It doesn't have to be. After all, English isn't - the English alphabet is an abstraction, where phonemes are often triggered by conditions. It'd probably need a larger alphabet than English has, but there's nothing wrong with that - I'd just rather there existed something less complicated than, say, kanji.
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From:[personal profile] lady_ganesh
Date: June 7th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
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Hmm. But English is made up of phonemes-- there's just a lot of borrowing from other languages, which is why it's not consistent.

One of the reasons Deaf speakers of ASL have trouble learning written English (and this applies over other languages) is that they conceptually have trouble with the phonemes. (This is why if we needed to teach my daughter a signed language it would have been cued speech.) One of the big challenges in terms of getting Deaf people access to proper employment, etc. is bridging that gap. A 'phoneme'-based language would help in that respect in a way an abstract one wouldn't.
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From:[personal profile] lauredhel
Date: June 7th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
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"Pictograms"? It is components. Handshape, location, movement, prosody, and various other aspects that can be correlated fairly closely with the phonological features of spoken language. There has been a large amount of research done on the phonology of signed language, which has been going on for decades. There is published work on it, journals, books, etc. There are university courses specifically about sign language phonology.
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From:[personal profile] lady_ganesh
Date: June 7th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
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That's helpful to know-- can you check my comment above and help correct me?
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From:[personal profile] trouble
Date: June 7th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
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This... really reads as incredibly paternalistic to me.

Essentially, it reads like, despite there having been d/Deaf people around for centuries, who have a vested interest in making their communications as easy and fluid for themselves as possible, a large number of hearing folks are going to get together and "solve" a problem for them - a problem that may or may not exist for a large number of d/Deaf people.

I also think it ignores the existence of ASL poetry and ABC stories, and jokes This is a culture that has traditions around communication and the like. Just ones that aren't widely acknowledged by the mainstream.

Other than one post by one d/Deaf person, I'm not even sure how much reading you've done on the history of deaf communication, or even the rather painful history of "Let's save the d/Deaf people".
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 7th, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
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I haven't. This is just vague thinking. And there's a reason why I think deaf people should be doing it, just with input from people like linguists, and possibly the assistance of people who are good at font-type stuff.

But the thing is, a lot of language stuff is best approached by the tandom efforts of native speakers and outsiders, because there's a lot of things which native speakers take for granted. Native speaker bias is a serious problem for working with every language, and, I suspect, one to which the d/Deaf are not immune.

Hence, what I actually think is that a bunch of deaf people should do this, with input from others. It's not that d/Deaf People Can't Do This, it's that no-one can conduct serious investigation of their own language without reference to and criticism from other language perspectives. (Some people have trouble even then - for example, there are people who refuse to recognise that the difference between unaspirated and aspirated /b/ sounds is significant, even though in some languages it is as different as /b/ and /p/. Because in English, both sounds are used, but are not used to distinguish meaning.)

I am aware of the existence of ASL poetry and so on. The problem is, as far as I know, there isn't a good way to, say, publish books of ASL poetry - not in a way that is as rewarding as publishing books of English poetry is, say. (Aesthetically rewarding, not financially, btw.)

If there is, fine, this isn't necessary - instead, the problem is that there can be Deaf people fluent in sign language, but constrained to write in English and forever feel trapped in an alien language, which means a serious fucking flaw in the education of at least some deaf children.

I actually do feel quite strongly about this - I have a thing about languages, and I think it's a deep, profound wrong for people to be without a proper, sufficient language of their own. And if even that one deaf person feels that way, that's one person too many, and there is a serious wrongness. I don't care if it's a problem that "may or may not exist for a large number of Deaf people" - it's a problem that exists for at least one, which means it probably exists for more than one, and it's a problem I consider important. Everyone should have access to their own language, and that includes being literate therein.
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From:[personal profile] lauredhel
Date: June 7th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
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deaf people should do this



there isn't a good way to, say, publish books of ASL poetry


I think it's a deep, profound wrong for people to be without a proper, sufficient language of their own.


I'm out. Out, out out. OMFG.
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From:[personal profile] rainbow
Date: June 7th, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
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I'm wondering if the stumbling block here is because you're well-studied in linguistics, which is about spoken language. I mean that perhaps you may be subconsciously expecting to see familiar linguistic patterns in the written language that deaf people use, and, exactly because you don't see them, you see "null" instead of "different"?

Alphabets are based on spoken language -- the characters are a visual notation for sounds. If one doesn't use sound to communicate, but gestures and pictures, why an alphabet for one's own non-verbal communication? It seems like it would be for the benefit of the hearing, rather than the deaf.

Disclaimer: I'm not deaf; I have no close friends or family who are. I did take courses in ASL ~1980 in California. At that point a good 1/4 of the course was discussing the immense differences between spoken language and signed language. It also taught that ASL isn't the same as signed English and that there's no one sign language since they each developed with input from the spoken languages around them.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 8th, 2009 02:27 am (UTC)
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... I was going to answer this, and then I realised that, realistically, I can *either* keep going on this discussion, *or* I can have a realistic chance at making it through this week without ending up in hospital *again*.

So I'm done. This may be me failing harder, but you know, I have my own problems, and apart from anything else, if I end up back in hospital again this week they probably won't let me leave, and I really, really don't want that.
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From:[personal profile] rainbow
Date: June 8th, 2009 03:00 am (UTC)

I am so very sorry for failing in turn.

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I am truly sorry that my words caused you pain. It was unintentional, which helps not at all, I know.

Some dayas I really hate that words on a screen don't have gestures or tones, because reading mine after your comment I see how they could be hurtful, and they were *meant* to be gentle, not hurtful.

I apologise with my whole heart, and you are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope you will make it through the week intact, and I wish I could take back the pain I gave you.

Carys
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From:[personal profile] lindra
Date: June 15th, 2009 06:43 am (UTC)
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The BADD entry you refer to is mine, this entry: BADD: randomness. To quickly summarise it: At the moment I am prevented from learning sign language -- the language that is rightfully mine and which I have been denied by people who prioritise written and spoken language above sign language and do not recognise it as valid and intuitive means of communication in its own right -- by my other disabilities. The more general topic of my post was on the intersection of disabilities and identity.

That is what I said. What you read is apparently something very different.

I am willing to talk to you about my entry and my perspective and how you have misrepresented it here, and the disconnect therein, when we, particularly you, have the spoons to do so. I'm afraid my take will be critical in some parts, particularly regarding the assumptions you made about what I said/deaf people in general/deaf culture/etc. in earlier comments, and while I appreciate your desire to help the lack that you percieve, I am critical of your response, and your motivation, it for reasons which I will explain if, again, you want me to and are in a place where you can hear it without undue risk to yourself -- I do not want to harm you at all, merely explain that you might understand.

If you do want to hear it, I will do my best to be gentle and answer your questions in full, but this post and your comments hurt me very deeply and I may fail to be evenhanded, and I apologise in advance.

With those caveats, the offer is there.

(deleted and reposted for HTML fail; sorry!)
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: June 15th, 2009 07:01 am (UTC)
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Thank you for your reply. I apologise absolutely that this post hurt you. I left it public because I don't want to try to pretend my failures didn't happen, or anything, but I was really hoping it wouldn't get linked, as it apparently has, for this very reason; I recognise that I was wrong, and this will hurt people, and I deeply, deeply did not want that to happen.

I am open to hearing anything you want to say, regarding your reactions to this post and disagreements with what I've said. I really appreciate your willingness to engage on this subject, and I'd seriously love to talk about this, either in comments or by e-mail (sonnlich/at/gmail/dot/com). (E-mail offer because extended conversations via comment thread can get annoying, totally up to you though.)

I'm doing much better emotionally than I was when I posted this, in general, and - without wanting to trip over the tone argument, here - since you're offering to explain and all, I can handle some criticism when it's constructive.

To be clear on terms: I can handle being told I'm wrong when you can tell me why and give me tips on how I can be less wrong in the future. "OMFG"-type reactions, and "I really can't discuss this with you" (which I got via chat from someone else) don't turn me off the topic, but it's not a vein in which I can continue conversation. My bailing on this post was largely a matter of recognising that I'd gone wrong, but that discussion of my wrongness was until that point going exactly nowhere.

If you decide you can't continue the conversation with me... well, I'll have failed even harder, most likely, but that's okay. I won't decide it's just Not Worth Caring because no-one's willing to teach me, I'll still try to learn on my own in my own fumbling, fail-beset way.
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From:[personal profile] lindra
Date: June 15th, 2009 08:16 am (UTC)
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I'm very glad you're doing better! I was quite worried when I read the earlier comments.

And, all right. Well. There's ... a lot to say, and a lot to respond to, and a lot to explain, and I mean a lot, because this shit is complicated, but here's a beginning.

To be honest, how I came across this entry was part of the hurt. It was utterly accidental. You came up in IM conversation with a friend as a good person to read in general, particularly for race-related stuff, but she warned me that you had deaf fail a week or so ago, and I went to see, because that's just what I do, really -- I go see. And what I found was that you apparently thought my plight, as you saw it, was important enough to post about and make a community toward rectifying, and plan things in attempting to make it better, and crusade for against those pointing out flaws, but in doing so you didn't reference me, my post, or my words. I felt like a cipher, my pain made into a metaphorical problem to be fixed, rather than a person being responded to.

This isn't to shame you or guilt you -- simply explaining a part of it.

And the vibe I got from your post was that I was exactly that: an anonymous deaf person whom you had read and thought to help, but without speaking to me or getting to know me, or leaving a comment to say that you had. Even a stab at my name or what I had said would have helped prevent you from falling into that trap, because it is a trap, a trap of privileged thinking. I'm sure you're familiar with it from racefail, and the various posts there, about how the words of nonwhite/chromatic people, how the words of women, how the words of trans/genderqueer people, etc. etc., are appropriated. I felt appropriated and, as a result, made invisible.

This is, in some ways, particularly problematic -- in my view, but I could be wrong -- when it comes to issues of disability, because what we are, what works for us, what we have struggled for and toward, is often something to be fixed by the abled. And what I saw in your post was that you were approaching squarely from this view, and furthermore from the view that this paragraph of mine -- which I believe was the one which coloured my post for you:

Text and speech also hurt, and they hurt in old, familiar ways. [...] My words feel distant from me, clumsy: they are not mine. They are translations from -- from what? I don't know. I don't know, and I feel lacking in a language of my own and forced to work in a second that is not quite mine, that trips me in pronounciation and speech-based rules and memory. The rules are not ones I understand.

It should not be that I feel that something is missing, and yet I do. I feel it acutely. [...] there, everpresent, a restriction and a reminder, not always remembered but always hurting.


It is particularly telling to me that you immediately jumped from my personal feeling that "text and speech do not feel familiar", from my wish that I had the physical and mental spoons to be capable of learning sign language, to "Deaf people need a written language".

Can you see the disconnect there? The jump from my thinking to your privileged thinking? The twist from wanting 'a language I can communicate natively in', which I had said quite clearly was sign language, to the assumption that true, native communication = spoken and written?

You make this jump in some of your first few paragraphs in the post:

I've read and been told that sign language is not, in fact, a mapping of English to gestures; the syntax and modes of expression are actually different.

This makes perfect sense to me, as a linguist; a one-to-one mapping wouldn't be the best way to make sign a natural language.


You then go on to assume that literacy is what makes a language, when what what I am speaking of, and wishing for, is a language that is native to me, instinctive, one that I can use without coming up short. In trying to help, you reinforce the problem.

It will probably help to understand where I'm coming from if you try to see this in terms of other -isms, and in context also of racefail and mammothfail, where you were quite on the ball.

This sort of twisting of viewpoint, privilege-based distortion, happens to me and to other deaf people, and to deaf people in general and throughout history, a a lot. Like [personal profile] trouble said, there is a huge, long, varied history of hearing people attempting to cure, fix, help, improve, etc. conditions for deaf people. Including and particularly language, which is tied very closely to culture when it comes to sign language. It's a very painful history, and I'm sorry to say your post and your comments invoked most of it, because that history largely involves hearing people speaking for deaf people.

In this paragraph in your comment here, you as a hearing person are speaking for me:

the problem is that there can be Deaf people fluent in sign language, but constrained to write in English and forever feel trapped in an alien language, which means a serious fucking flaw in the education of at least some deaf children.


Quite aside from your choice to speak for me, what you say there is not the issue. It is actually quite, quite, quite far from anything I recognise.
This is where and why [personal profile] lauredhel's tolerance ran out, I believe. In her reply to that comment, she picked out this sentence of yours: "I think it's a deep, profound wrong for people to be without a proper, sufficient language of their own."

I am not without a proper, sufficient native language of my own because sign language lacks an orthographic system. At all. I am not without that language because there are no 'books of ASL poetry' -- completely ignoring the existence of video collections of, indeed, poetry, which serve the same function in the appropriate modality -- and I am not without that native language because I am fluent in sign language and constrained to write in English.

I am without that native language because of the privileging of English speech and writing over a manual language that would have best served me. I am without a language that I would have felt comfortable with using, a manual language where I was not at an inherent disadvantage of comprehension and understanding that never quite goes away, no matter how fluent I am or how powerful my hearing aids are or how closely I listen, because of the attitudes that you express in this post -- which are the prevailing attitudes toward the signing deaf by the hearing, and deaf people as a whole.

That is where the hurt came from. You were using my lack of a native language as a metaphor to allow you to further push my language away from me, to further delegitimise a method of communication, a means of language, that has been depreciated, devalued, banned, driven underground, dismissed, ripped apart, denied and decimated by hearing people over centuries of history where hearing people presumed they had the right to speak for us.

It wasn't so long ago that using manual languages instead of spoken/written earned you the title of "deaf and dumb". Dumb, as in without speech. As in, without language, and a lesser person for it. Rather close to subhuman, in that we were deemed incapable of any communication whatsoever. Not so long ago. Last century, in fact. This shit is recent. It's on-going.

There are still debates over whether deaf people should be taught sign language, over whether it's a valid language -- true sociolinguistic studies and research into it only really began picking up pace and insight some thirty-fifty years ago at the most. In this post, you appropriated that struggle and redefined it to a hearing perspective of teach them to say the words and they'll talk/feel/be like real people.

You may not have intended it -- but that is what you invoked. That is a history which you invoked. That is a history which you invoke with the title alone. The title, all by itself, hurts me to see. "Deaf people need a written language." Who are you to say that? How can you say that? Need. A written. Language.

That ties right back into that history. And because of where you started from, your fail continued, and others were upset with you, very much so. Because your basic, privileged framing, your privileged thought, was the issue, and the rest simply followed from there.

That issue of basic framing is probably something you're familiar with, that issue of invoking history is also something you're probably familiar with, from anti-racism and anti-sexism discussions. Particularly anti-racism, because although the oppressions are different, they do share quite a number of similiarities, including just how recent it is that we were seen and treated and allowed to be seen as people. That our signing speech was seen as speech at all.

You're dealing with living history, I'm afraid; very bitter, very painful living history. And that invocation caused a lot of anger, and a lot of pain. Because my denial of a language that was mine came out of exactly the same framing that you were using in your post about how you wanted to 'help' me and 'people like me'.

There's a lot of fail, true. But as far as I can tell it's those two particular points which are the most pernicious and began the cascade of fail. There's a lot more to discuss, of course, a LOT more, a LOT LOT LOT, and I am not kidding when I say there is, but those two things -- and I can clarify them further and in specific if you have questions -- are where we need to start, I think. Because otherwise our viewpoints, and our framing, are simply going to be too different.
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From:[personal profile] lindra
Date: June 15th, 2009 08:19 am (UTC)
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Three further things:

1) OMFG how much do I love DW's comment limits!? and
2) I tend to like comment discussions, because I can't keep track of emails very easily; they bother me in a way that's difficult to pinpoint, but there you go, and I apologise for the inconvenience, and
3) if I'm not being constructive enough, or if I am confusing you, or if you need further explanation, please tell me and I will be happy to lay it out.
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From:[personal profile] trouble
Date: June 21st, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)
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The reason I told you I could not continue to talk to you about this at that time was because you were talking about two things - your hurt/anger that people were bailing on you & this conversation, and your need to explain exactly what you meant and what was behind what you were saying. I could either deal with one or the other, and I chose to deal at that time with your hurt/anger over how people were reacting to this conversation, because that was of far more concern to me.

I'm sorry that left you feeling that you were getting no support. I obviously mis-spoke.
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From:[personal profile] lindra
Date: June 28th, 2009 08:19 am (UTC)
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Okay, thank you for this -- I appreciate the clarification. Really, I do, and I appreciate that you're trying to understand me, even if I'm not clarifying very well -- please do ask me to explain myself if I get too obscure.

I've been in and out of a decent headspace for this sort of thing over the last few days, and ... well. I'm replying out of gmail, because I just ran into fail elsewhere (I believe you're familiar with the warnings debate?) and having that cross over with the fact that the title of your post feels like the proverbial chalkboard-and-nails -- well.

Would it be all right to ask you to change to it something else? You can add to your eta or something that that was what the original title was, but it does hurt to see and I would like to respond, I really would, but it's difficult to scroll past the title itself when it pops up in my address bar and there's some overarching points in what you say that I'd like to respond to if I can. ♥

And as an addenum -- yes, you're right, I had terminology fail in my last comment, reaching for similiar-but-not-the-same concepts and landing on the wrong one. When I said 'colonialism', I meant something along the lines of 'that process of domination and assimiliation and moreso depreciation of minorities', if that makes sense. Like, when it comes to sign language, the position is still precarious. It is, in some very real ways, a finite resource. And I'm very aware of that.

(I should add that I'm pretty much only speaking for myself here when I say 'we'; it's a very bad habit of mine, and I shouldn't do it, really.)

And I think most of us are aware of that. And I'm aware that hearing parents would rather perform invasive surgery on their child rather than learn to communicate with them as they are. And then when that fails, as it did with me off and on over the years in a thousand different ways, they brand their child 'failures' and send them off to learn sign language because they'll never be any good at oral communication, when the delay in language and development is caused by the insistence on that surgery and the following expectation that they'll learn oral language.

And I'm aware, personally, that perhaps written language would be an ... hmm. Enticement to those hearing parents of nine out of ten deaf children. But it doesn't matter, really, because that... really take priority, I think.

As long as that attitude of 'oral first, manual when oral options are exhausted and the child is branded a failure' exists, as long as we have to deal with the painful, life-long effects of that attitude, with the consequences (hell, the wreckage) of hearing people's privileged attitudes toward language, as long as children are made to suffer the expectations of Becoming Hearing (and failing because they weren't hearing in the first place to begin with); as long as manual languages and the cohesion of deaf communities and the very option of manual languages itself is under threat, and under such severe threat, it is that which needs changing and fixing.

Having a written system means little if there is no-one to use it, and that is the postion which I and others like me face. I understand your argument that you believe in the preservation of languages, and that preservation happens through a written form (or perhaps abstraction) of the language in question, but it's rather putting the cart before the horse. The horse must be fed first. It must grow, and under heavy pressure it can't carry a child, much less draw a cart.

And that is the position manual languages are in and have been in living memory (very recent memory: I myself am a product of the denial of manual languages, of this attitude, this is my pain, this is where my hurt and my rage comes from) and while I wish dearly that it could happen, that this is a world where it will eventually happen, I can't make that assumption.

I really, really can't, because I meet so many hearing parents of deaf children who believe, who sincerely fucking believe, that their children won't need to do [sign language] ever, that they won't need to teach their children a way to communicate with them before oral options of forcing the child to speech and talk to their peers and fit in with the hearing become fraught and frayed and no longer a promise spun by oralists who believe that if only a child is taught to speak and hear as best as they can, to speechread, to listen, to pay attention, to watch for cues, and above all never learn sign language, then they will be hearing.

This is not a myth. This has happened to me. This has happened to people I know.

This is happening to the son of the real estate agent who sold us this house, who said of her deaf son, when asked what accomodations she made for him, that she spoke clearly to him and had him in speech therapy. That's it. Just that. Just for that a deaf child. Isn't that nice?

Worse: her second son had CAPD, Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and she 'spoke clearly' to him too. It is a fundamental scrambling of the sounds processed by the human ear. Speaking clearly aids a little; it does not help the problem, which is that the auditory processing of a person with CAPD is fundamentally fucking different to begin with. Much like deaf children's are, though the structure of how they process (or don't process) auditory stimuli is very often different from CAPD.

It's all of a piece, that kind of attitude. It all ties in together, and I run into it just about every time someone notices my hearing aids or the way I talk or how I watch their lips and faces or or or or or or or fucking or.

And to me, the right to a natural language of the heart, where one can communicate at all, full stop, the end, is the threat and concern. Seriously. It's that fucking bad. And that's why your post title is so fucking painful, because it completely leaps past the attitude of the hearing and how that influences everything and makes it into the concern of the hearing. It's not. It's my life and my words and it hurts.

I know your position. I fight with it all the time. And I'm fighting with it because I want you to understand that your position is of a piece, is an ally to, is working against me, is contributing to my struggle, with the positions and attitudes that denied me the language you are so intent on preserving in the first place.

Whew. That turned into a bit of a rant. I'm not sure I want to delete it, though. Just know that I'm mostly angry and hurt in general, and that most of this is not directly specifically at you; more the overall arch of how this kind of reasoning just makes it harder for me to claim what is left over when hearing people are done going through it and poking at people like me yet again.
From:(Anonymous)
Date: July 11th, 2009 10:07 am (UTC)

Hearing problems (not audiological)

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Talk about novels... it took quite a while to read this post. Both of you, sami and lindra, are well read and very fine writers. I enjoyed reading this post because it so closely resembles what I've been learning about Deaf / ASL the last three years.

I am a hearing person who has wanted to learn ASL for 20 years. Buck Rogers has a show about a deaf captive with whom Buck was able to communicate, to the surprise of his 24th-century companion. I went around the corner to the local library (grew up in a town with four streets) and borrowed the available ASL dictionary. "I can read English," I thought. "How hard can it be to learn ASL."

I learned the word "want." Not that I tried very hard, but none of the other words stuck. I never met a deaf person, so my desire remained dormant until an opportunity swung my way to regularly see a group of ASL users in a local congregation. For six months I attended every Sunday and didn't get ONE thing out of it.

They had an ASL DVD, no captions, each month that was discussed at the meetings without voicing. It was amazing and frustrating at the same time. I've learned English, Spanish, and dozens of computer programming languages. Why couldn't I pin this language down?

Watching the DVDs I started to notice patterns of production. I made my own kind of Stokoe notation, but simpler, and started to practice some signs. I was able to approach some of the hearing participants before or after the meeting and ask what a sign meant. It was finally starting to make sense, but only because I developed a script on which to hang an ASL orthography.

After my circumstances changed again and could not attend those meetings, I decided to attend the local community college's ASL class given by an older CODA. Because I had a means by which to write down the signs she gave us, I was easily the best practiced student of the group. I could start to see how signs were related to each other.

After six months of ASL classes I decided to switch my circumstances back and re-attend those congregation meetings. This time, I could start to get something out of it. After a year of lessons and practice, I was understanding about half of what was said.

By this time I started to use my script to write whole sentences. By reading those over and over I could really make out the ASL grammar being used. I've been able to write down a story, even though I did not understand all the words, and read it back to the audience intelligibly.

sami: I read a post by a deaf person who talked about how, despite the fact that she could write in English well, it felt like an unnatural second language to her.

I read another Deaf person's comment along the same lines. Those with no audiological background have no "sound-it-out" tools with which to make reading easy, or possibly as much fun. I love reading aloud to my kids, and my kids learn to love reading from those shared experiences. If a parent of a Deaf child never tries to make reading enjoyable, it becomes just another chore. Good reading literacy and writing literacy help the free-flow of thoughts from mind to paper and paper to mind.

sami: I've read and been told that sign language is not, in fact, a mapping of English to gestures; the syntax and modes of expression are actually different.

sami: What sort of doesn't make sense to me is that, therefore, sign doesn't have an accompanying orthography.

sami: Ideally, developing a written form of sign language should be done by someone who is fluent with it and grew up with it.

much later post by lindra: There is a huge class/time/power equation thing going on that you don't seem to be taking into account quite as much as I feel is necessary -- there is a amount of security in the language that is required, and sign anguages are still under great, great pressure.

The catch-22 going on here is not that Deaf people would prefer to never delegate their communication to a written page / printed sign / typed e-mail, but rather that they're so overwhelmed getting DAILY chores of communication with the entire society around them that consideration of such would never reach the surface. Only occasionally, only by some who has the privileges you and I take for granted to know and do so much with so many. But within this person(s) must also combine the ability to create a brief enough script for writing (as opposed to SignWriting pictograms or Stokoe's tersity), the ability to make coding compromises, the desire to catalog and publish an orthographic work, and the public relations abilities to get a LOT of other Deaf people excited about it.

The other Deaf person's post from last year mentioned this:

When writing a novel or story, "I search for a word to better fit the message I had in mind. The message was an image, an idea, a thought, yet it was without language. There were two languages I knew: ASL and English. ASL was my main language; therefore, the thought was picked up by ASL. Since ASL has no formalized written system, English took the reins and became the vehicle of passage from thought to written word."

This is apparently an unusual need for Deaf. To write a novel, as sami pointed out, was an unusual need for English speakers before Gutenberg's day. What I saw in your conversation was two sides of the same coin.

sami: Where I guess I have... I don't know, maybe an idealistic streak in play? is that it rubs me the wrong way to say that this means deaf people shouldn't have everything hearing people have, including a native written language.

lindra: And to me, the right to a natural language of the heart, where one can communicate at all, full stop, the end, is the threat and concern.

lindra is talking about the reality. sami is talking about the possibility. The pain comes from seeing so many possibilities pass you by, the opportunity to talk to neighborhood kids in your native language, the opportunity to do errands in your native language, the opportunity to have public entertainment in your native language language, and THEN having another opportunity you missed pointed out.

sami, I am saying that you were being insensitive to someone's plight. I ought to know after all the times I've done so. And I'm saying that I'm truly impressed with how open a mind you have to think about others' needs and want to know how they feel. You are not a pile of fail. You tried to reach out to someone and that someone communicated back. That is an incredible success!

lindra, with the few young and old Deaf people I have had an opportunity to meet I can absolutely see what you are talking about. Helen Keller said, "Blindness cuts you off from things. Deafness cuts you off from people." Babies absolutely must have people in their lives, and a deaf baby born to hearing parents is immediately disadvantaged.

The baby does not need fixed, it's the society that's broken. Now that I know enough ASL to see what I've been missing, I feel very jilted that this was not MY first language. No one should be without a manual language. Although I sometimes use English word order with my hearing children when I'm signing something I need them to understand clearly, I can already see that they are making this manual language a part of how they think.

sami, perhaps your goal is correct for the initially wrong reason. First all people need to be bilingual manual / spoken, and then bilingual written / written. But it would be easier to get all these spoken / written people to learn their first manual language if that manual language had an orthography. Then the production of a sign could be written down, compared with other signs, published in a non-video format, etc. for the assistance of teaching these hearing people. I am like you in that I learn and remember better from reading forward and backward on a page of text than listening to an audio book.
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From:[personal profile] sami
Date: July 21st, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC)
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When I said 'colonialism', I meant something along the lines of 'that process of domination and assimiliation and moreso depreciation of minorities', if that makes sense. Like, when it comes to sign language, the position is still precarious. It is, in some very real ways, a finite resource. And I'm very aware of that.

I immediately thought of you, today, during my introductory lecture on Linguistic Field Methods - discussing elicitation of primary linguistic data, language samples from people to whom that language is native, the discussion of the process talks about "spoken/written/signed" language and native "speakers/signers".

This, to me, seems like a good sign (no pun intended). Admittedly, linguists overall seem to tend to be kind of progressive ideologically, at least in terms of ideas about language (or it could just be the ones I know), but at the same time a lot of general ideas about language do seem to manage to filter out from the scientists to general perception. And it seems that linguists are now just treating signed languages as having equivalency with spoken and written languages.

(I confess I'm hoping that the language we're working with is oral, because I have a shoulder injury that means signed language is beyond me.)

And I'm aware that hearing parents would rather perform invasive surgery on their child rather than learn to communicate with them as they are. And then when that fails, as it did with me off and on over the years in a thousand different ways, they brand their child 'failures' and send them off to learn sign language because they'll never be any good at oral communication, when the delay in language and development is caused by the insistence on that surgery and the following expectation that they'll learn oral language.

See, this, I agree is a total problem for a range of reasons.

The biggest one is probably tha, yes, delay in language development is going to be a problem if you have a child who has hearing difficulties of any kind - even if it is possible for them to (re)gain hearing via medical intervention, you're losing valuable time in their development if you don't give them a language then. Evidence suggests that it can be good for kids to teach them some sign language (lower case deliberate - not ASL, necessarily) regardless of how well they can hear, simply because oral language articulation and production is seriously complicated, and children can communicate gesturally long before they can do so orally. Motor control of hands and arms develops early. Speaking requires much, much finer control of complicated systems, including the brain's learning to synchronise signals along nerve paths that are of drastically different lengths, so the signals need to be sent with staged timing to make the relevant parts to operate at the same time.

After a certain point the ability of the child to catch up entirely will never quite be there.

And that is the position manual languages are in and have been in living memory (very recent memory: I myself am a product of the denial of manual languages, of this attitude, this is my pain, this is where my hurt and my rage comes from) and while I wish dearly that it could happen, that this is a world where it will eventually happen, I can't make that assumption.

I see where you're coming from. I now suspect we have different approaches to activism. For me, there's an element of: Sign language is a language, which means it should get everything other languages get.

The people who should know better and don't? Fuck 'em. Let them choke on their own stupidity, just leave them behind. The people who haven't had a chance to learn yet? Give them no chance to think it's less than it is.

Your approach seems, for want of a better word, defensive. I can understand that, but it's not how I roll, on anything. I aim for pride, for projecting confidence even if I don't have it - if I were to try and sum up my ethos on stuff like this, it more-or-less amounts to "fake it till you make it", because in my experience, if you act like you deserve better, as if the idea of being disrespected hadn't occurred to you because you couldn't imagine anyone would be so stupid as to think demeaning you on the ground of [thing] was even a possibility, people tend to fall in line.

So I want it to be that if people tried to suggest that sign language wasn't a real language, everyone would be in a position to look at them like they crawled out from under a rock and wave shelves of literature in their faces.

Or possibly ebooks of it - it occurs to me that, in the modern age, a sign language orthography could be digital and animated, and therefore risk losing a lot less while still encoding language in a less data-heavy way than streaming video.

The point being that, where possible, one way to overcome the oppression of such things is just to win by their rules.

And then, if people aren't giving their deaf children access to the language, access to all of this, if nothing else you get a sudden strong case to call it neglect. And when people don't have responsibilities to any deaf people themselves, and make asshole assumptions, you can look at them witheringly. Spread the meme that this is equivalent to thinking French isn't a "real language".

I know your position. I fight with it all the time. And I'm fighting with it because I want you to understand that your position is of a piece, is an ally to, is working against me, is contributing to my struggle, with the positions and attitudes that denied me the language you are so intent on preserving in the first place.

Okay.

I'm sorry it comes across that way. I don't intend it to be like that - it's possibly partly, even mostly, that I do come at this from the perspective of a linguist, where it's taken as a safe assumption that the person who can best document a language is someone to whom it's not native, because native status in a language entails serious biases. (This is why a lot of the important work on describing English, for example, was done by French and German scientists.

At this juncture, though, I feel strongly I should quell my tendency to enthusiasm.
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From:[personal profile] lindra
Date: August 2nd, 2009 07:25 pm (UTC)
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hi, not ignoring this. I see you *have* been doing some thinking -- that's good to see.

currently experiencing medical crap at the moment that doesn't leave room for this, so I will need to come back to this in a few more days. sorry for the inconvenience!
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From:[personal profile] lindra
Date: August 30th, 2009 07:31 am (UTC)
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I think the best way to encapsulate my stance is with the text of this poem, in full:

Dedication, by Gustavo PĂ©rez Firmat

The fact that I
am writing to you
in English
already falsifies what I
wanted to tell you.
My subject:
how to explain to you that I
don't belong to English
though I belong nowhere else.
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