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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] sami
Date: August 3rd, 2009 02:40 am (UTC)
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No worries - not like I didn't take ages to reply before! One of the things I'm really liking about our conversation and the medium in which we're holding it is that both of us can take the time we need for answering.
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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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