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[redacted title] Jun. 7th, 2009 @ 08:08 pm
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*


Let's get on this. For reals. Let's make the world a better place.
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