Paul & Tina’s Signalong: Haters gonna hate

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?

Katherine Dreier, The Société Anonyme Museum of Modern Art, & Yale University, 1941

Katherine Dreier, a co-founder in 1920 of The Société Anonyme Museum of Modern Art, gave an ethical legacy to my great-grandmother and a cultural legacy to the United States. The year Dreier deeded her collection to Yale University –1941 — she also wrote to my great-grandmother Ruth Seely Preston. In her letter, she enclosed an announcement by The Société Anonyme of giving their collection of modern art to Yale University. She also enclosed a Bulletin of the Associates in Fine Arts at Yale University showing and describing pieces from the collection. Most important to my family, she enclosed a personal statement certifying my great-grandmother’s birth, for that was what Ruth had written Dreier to request. Of the enclosed documents, Dreier wrote: “These you can show to the authorities if necessary to show them my standing in the community.” Since I found these documents among my grandmother’s memoirs, I have scanned and uploaded them in the interest of historical preservation. Here they are:

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Of course there are dialects of ASL. Why wouldn’t there be?

Someone on Google+ today asked me what I thought of the article All Things Linguistic — Dialects of Sign Language: Black ASL. I responded with the following comment, which I felt should be shared here:

Yes, I’m familiar with this. The segregation of black Deaf children in black Deaf schools, and the segregation of black and white people in general, led to a distinct variety of ASL. The cultural and linguistic heritage of that dialect endures today.

When I was a video relay service (VRS) interpreter, I saw Deaf people call in from all over the US, and I learned a lot of different signs I had never seen before, since there are so many regional varieties. I saw difference in pace, rhythm, signing space, syntax, words that were fingerspelled instead of signed, and vice versa.

I wish this would not come as a surprise to hearing people who know nothing of ASL, because they should understand that ASL is as varied as spoken language, and emerges and evolves organically among language communities. Instead, it seems most hearing people assume that ASL is a fixed system invented by hearing people and taught to Deaf people all over the world. They also seem to assume that Deaf people take what is “given” to them without question or alteration. Of course they don’t realize they assume this, but the way they talk about it, they do. For example, when I tell them I am an ASL interpreter, they assume I teach ASL to Deaf people, as if Deaf people needed a hearing person to teach them how to communicate. They also say things like “why isn’t it universal? It should be!” I ask them “why isn’t English universal?” They seem to take for granted that hearing people have the sovereignty to create and use their own languages, yet they think Deaf people don’t create their own ways of communicating, and should be made to communicate the same way all over the world.

I’ll leave you with the video that inspired the original article:

Three lessons this interpreter is learning from teaching ASL

1. It takes patience and creativity to sign with people who know little sign language.

I have a new respect for Deaf people who take the time to sign with ASL students. Having more respect for Deaf people and more creativity in how I express myself is making me a better Deaf community member.

2. I’ve been doing it wrong.

Well, maybe not wrong, but there are things I never knew, such as that Y is considered a down letter; that is, Y is made by tilting the palm downward. I’m sure this is not a hard and fast rule; in fact, I can see even on the Signing Naturally DVD the language models do not always sign Y that way. Still, I never knew it ever tilted down at all. Now I see it in the way I and other signers spell the lexicalized #style and #yes. I also never knew that the sign WHEN meant what day, not what time. Again, I’m sure this is not a hard and fast rule, but I never knew it was a rule at all. Those are just two examples of several. Learning how to refine my signing is making me a better interpreter.

3. Now I see what my students have learned.

Since many of the interpreting students and working interpreters I teach have learned ASL with the Signing Naturally curriculum, I have a better idea of what they were taught. Knowing what my students have learned is making me a better interpreter trainer.

Deaf Heart, confidentiality, vagueness, and transparency

There is currently a discourse within the American Deaf community about the resignation of two Deaf members of the board of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). The members who resigned, Lewis Merkin and Naomi Sheneman, say that the confidentiality agreements they signed when they joined the board prevent them from discussing in detail what happened that they felt they had to resign. They say, vaguely, that they were reprimanded for something they did that was a trifling matter within the norms of Deaf culture, and that, in general, they do not feel the RID board has a Deaf Heart. The resigning members, and others who support embracing the values of Deaf Heart and Native View, demand more Deaf leadership in RID and more transparency from RID.

In an attempt to understand the term Deaf Heart, and to catch up on the conversation regarding Deaf members of the RID board, I sought, watched, and collected a playlist of videos about Deaf Heart on YouTube. I also Googled ‘Deaf Heart’ and read and listed two articles below (actually, I had read one of them when it came out last month, and I’m still not sure I understand). I’m sure this is not the complete discourse on Deaf Heart and the Deaf RID board member resignations; this is just all I was able to find. If you know of any other vlogs or blog posts I should add, please let me know. In the meanwhile, I hope these references help others who want to get the news and listen to the discourse.

Each of these videos touches upon the concepts of Deaf Heart and/or Native View, though none of them defines it. The first video in this playlists seeks clarification from the diverse membership of the Deaf community (including Deaf people, interpreters both hearing and deaf, people with Deaf family members, social service providers, and others) about Deaf Heart. Deanna Donaldson, the author of this first vlog, requests answers to four questions about Deaf Heart, and invites vloggers to make additional comments for up to two minutes. Her invitation goes out to Houston, Texas, but as it is on the World Wide Web it is a good prompt for vloggers everywhere, and I encourage people to post video responses. I would like to see what people have to say about this thing called Deaf Heart.

An observation that might make for another whole blog post is the vagueness in which these vloggers couch their discussion of these confidential issues. Anyone who thinks ASL is not a vague language, or there is no vagueness in ASL, will see that people can in fact use ASL to be vague. I invite those who know ASL — which, by the way, you have to do to be able to watch these videos (sorry) — to note the vague language and tell me what you see.

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