In the spirit of saying Hey! Look at Deaf language artists! I’d like to share with you a Facebook Page I was turned on to today called ASL 1–10 Stories. 1–10 stories are a genre of ASL poetry using sign/classifier “rhymes” of the handshapes for the numbers 1 through 10. You have to learn to understand ASL on a sophisticated level to appreciate these stories, and I’ve never seen hearing people do them as well as Deaf people, so I like to think of it this way: if Paul & Tina are your appetizer, learn ASL from Deaf people so you can enjoy ASL poetry for dessert!
I am not as offended or concerned about Paul & Tina’s Signalong as some people are. I think exposure to ASL can be a good thing, regardless of who’s signing. Personal experience: the first time I was truly impressed with the beauty of ASL was at a monologue competition in 1985, when a hearing girl spoke and signed a monologue from Children of a Lesser God. I have no idea, in retrospect, how good she was at signing; all I remember is I thought it was beautiful. The fact that she spoke and signed at the same time made it accessible to me. I don’t think I would have gotten the same impression at the time if I had seen a Deaf woman delivering the same monologue, even if it were interpreted. I might have been more intimidated than entertained. I might have seen more differences than similarities. I might not have been ready for the culture shock.
If you read the comments on Paul & Tina’s Signalong Facebook page post about taking down their donation site, you’ll see a variety of views, both supportive and critical, both from hearing and Deaf people. I think this dialogue is a good thing. The comments from d/Deaf people were more supportive than those from interpreters, though, and I think that’s telling. If Deaf signers want to be offended by Paul & Tina, and educate them about their language and culture, that is their job. It’s not ASL/English interpreters’ job to be offended for Deaf people.
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish
Where you start isn’t necessarily where you end up. It’s not Paul & Tina’s job to be Deaf, and they’re not trying to be. They’re just being themselves and having fun with it. They’re not the be all, end all; they’re just doing their thing. Where people take it from there is their business. Time will tell whether future interpreters might have first thought ASL was fun by watching their videos. Eventually, we learn from Deaf people if we get that far. And if we don’t get that far, what’s the harm?
I put this diagram together on Popplet to impress upon my students how many skills it takes to learn ASL– and how many skills they can develop by learning it. Like dance, ASL involves coordination, movement, and space; like any language (foreign, world, modern, spoken), ASL involves grammar and vocabulary; like communication, ASL involves conversation and structure; like anthropology, ASL involves culture and diversity.
There are also several connections that are shared by ASL and at least two other disciplines (I colored these magenta): like communication and dance, an ASL course involves structure, articulation, memorization, rehearsal, partner work, and audience; like language and communication, an ASL course involves conversation; like anthropology and dance, an ASL course involves culture.
So much goes into learning ASL, and so much can come out of it! I hope that this diagram and these words will help give students a greater respect for the complexity in store for them as they embark upon learning ASL.