The -isms & -ists of Oralism & Oralists

Since so many people responded on my blog to the first video about this topic, “Re Oralism vs Speaking” that I embedded in a blog post, I have been responding and thinking about this issue. One thing that stands out for me is the meaning of the suffices -ism and -ist. These can simply mean “system” or “practitioner” but they also have loaded connotations of strong belief systems and prejudices– and the people who espouse such attitudes and prejudices.

My view is that there is nothing wrong with any mode of communication, be it ASL, signed English, or speaking and speechreading. Although I realize that “oralism” is a hot-button issue with many deaf people for whom it carries heavy emotional associations, I believe that if all of that emotional baggage is put aside, it can be seen that speaking and speechreading are simply ways of communicating. (To quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “…there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”)

Far be it from me to tell oral deaf what to call themselves, but my opinion of the word “oralist” is that I would avoid it because it may carry the connotation of being a strong proponent of the oral method and being a prejudiced opponent of signing. As an interpreter, transliterator, and oral transliterator, I consider myself neither a manualist nor an oralist; I am just a person doing a job and providing the services that various deaf clients request.

If hard pressed to say what I think about speech training for children, I would have to say that, having listened to the gamut of teaching philosophies that various deaf educators espouse, I support the teaching of fully grammatical ASL first, and then English and speech second. ASL is the foundation, the native language, the “first” language; then comes English, the second language.

I know that the Code of Ethics (or Code of Professional Conduct, as it is called now) says that interpreters should “Refrain from providing counsel, advice, or personal opinions,” but that goes for interpreters while they are on the job. Interpreters off the job are people with opinions. I am expressing my opinion as someone who has studied ASL, Deaf culture, interpreting, transliterating, and oral transliterating for over 21 years and has been around many different deaf people. These are my views as an English major and word lover who analyzes words for all their meanings, both denotative and connotative.

Thanks for watching, and have a good day.

Related posts on danielgreene.com: Re Oralism vs Speaking

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

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