Yo sigo en aprender español para que yo lo añada a mis lenguas de interpretación. Afortunadamente, aún a este punto intermedio de mi desarollo, a veces yo puedo hacer un poco de interpretación trilingüe. Por ejemplo, quizás yo interpreto para una cita médica en esta manera: hay un médico oyente que habla español e ingles, un miembro de familia oyente que habla español y el lenguaje de señas, y un paciente sordo que usa el lenguaje de señas americano. Cuando el médico y el miembro de familia hablan con juntos, yo interpreto al paciente sordo lo que están diciendo; cuando el paciente seña, el miembro de familia comprende el paciente y yo interpreto al médico en inglés. Si a cualquier tiempo no entiendo el español del médico o del miembro de familia, este doctor es dispuesto a decírmelo en inglés. !Se sale bien!
I continue to learn Spanish so that I can add it to my interpreting languages. Fortunately, even at this point in my development, sometimes I can do a bit of trilingual interpretation. For example, perhaps I interpret for a medical appointment in this way: there is a hearing doctor who speaks Spanish and English, a hearing family member who speaks Spanish and sign language, and the Deaf patient who uses American Sign Language. When the doctor and the family member speak with each other, I interpret to the Deaf patient what they are saying; when the patient signs, the family member understands the patient and I interpret for the physician in English. If at any time do not understand the doctor’s or family member’s Spanish, this doctor is willing to say it to me in English. It works out well!
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?
Aside from the irresponsible journalism that propagated this story in the first place, the basis for the concept is fundamentally flawed. There cannot be such thing as a wristband a signer can wear that will translate their signed language into spoken language; why? Because signed language is not just on the hands! Signed language is on the face and the body as well. The grammar of signed language is made through eyebrow, mouth, cheek, and even nose movements. Signed language is made with head nods and shakes, head and body tilts, and even shoulder shrugs. Anyone who ever took an introductory course in ASL should know this.
There is one other important flaw in the concept of a gesture-to-speech translation machine, and that is the notion that there is one “sign language.” No, folks, “sign language” is not universal! No sir, no ma’am. Even if Google were able to take input from a human interface device located on a signer’s body–even if that included all the points on the face and body necessary to read signed language–Google would have to add hundreds of signed languages into their Google Translate engine. Language is culture-bound, just as gesture is culture-bound. I’d like to see how this supposed “Google Gesture” would translate the thumbs up gesture, which can mean something like “up yours” in countries other than the United States.
American Sign Language (note that the A in ASL stands for American; i.e., not universal) is a much richer and more complex language than people give it credit for; in fact, so are all the signed languages in the world. Until enough people learn to appreciate the sophistication, complexity, and diversity of signed languages, we will continue to swallow false stories like this hook, line, and sinker.
Nor is any language “a vague language.” Rather, every language has vague language, just as every language has specific language. Vagueness is a natural phenomenon; not everything in life is certain, specific, accurate, or clear. Since things are sometimes vague, people must be able to use language to express this vagueness. ASL has ways of expressing vagueness; therefore, ASL has vague language in it — just as English and every other language has vague language it it. Any language is too complex to be labeled “a vague language.” Conversely, it is not reasonable to say that any language is “not a vague language” — except insofar as to say there is no such thing as “a vague language.”
From the way I’ve seen people use the term SEE in recent years, I don’t think they know what they’re talking about. I want to dispel the notion that SEE is any and every form of English-like American Sign Language (ASL). English-like ASL goes by many names — contact language, contact variety signing (CVS), conceptually accurate signed English (CASE), manually coded English (MCE), and pidgin signed English (PSE). The idea that English-like ASL is a pidgin was refuted by Cokely in 1983 and by Lucas & Valli and Davis in 1989, yet many people still use the term PSE, unaware of the research that disproved it 20–30 years ago. If people are still using the term PSE two and three decades after it was refuted by linguists, I don’t know there’s hope of getting people to stop using the term SEE so loosely, but I’m going to try, so hear me out.
SEE stands for Seeing Essential English, a sign system developed by a Deaf teacher, David Anthony, and the Deaf children he taught. David Anthony and his interpreter Arthur Washburn, in their article Seeing Essential English: A sign system of English, show that they had an insider’s knowledge of Deaf history, Deaf culture, and ASL. David Anthony developed SEE to help Deaf children learn English. SEE is a specific, contrived sign system that combines signs from ASL with handshapes from the fingerspelled alphabet; i.e., “initialized signs.” Washburn and Anthony argue that initialization is nothing new, pointing out that several signs Americans don’t realized are initialized actually were initialized upon French words; e.g. C for chercher (SEARCH), B for bon (GOOD), A for autre (OTHER), and C for cent (HUNDRED). In SEE, a sign can only be used to represent one English word, and one sign cannot be used to represent more than one word. For the purpose of teaching morphemic knowledge of English, SEE included affixes and suffixes such as -ness, -ment, etc.
Note well that there is hardly anyone who signs SEE anymore (which Luetke-Stahlman & Milburn noted way back in 1996). I could not find a single video of anyone signing SEE on the Internet. I did, however, find a video of Dr. Barb Luetke presenting a lecture on the subject:
Even when people use the term SEE to stand for Signing Exact English, they are not quite right. Signing Exact English is technically SEE², a later sign system based on SEE. Even SEE² is so uncommon I could hardly find any videos of people signing it. There are three humorous videos by Eric Witteborg and friend parodying Apple’s “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” commericlals that demonstrate the way many members of the American Deaf culture (including CODAs) see SEE as unwieldy and complicated in comparison to the simple elegance of ASL. In these short videos you see a short sample of something like SEE (though I suspect one or two of the signs are parodies of SEE, not the real signs). Several of the videos of what people called SEE (here’s just one example) were really just what might be called Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE), a way of using signs from ASL in something approximating English word order with English mouthing. There are also many people using the term SEE in vLogs and comments, and it is clear from the way they describe it that they don’t know what SEE really is. One of the few videos I found of someone actually signing SEE² was by Dr. Barb Luetke, who I found in my research is one of the few experts on the subject (if not the only one):
Here is Barb Luetke speaking about SEE II at a conference:
Here is a video of three teachers signing a song at the end of a SEE II workshop:
As an ASL-English interpreter, I work to be an ally of the Deaf, and I hold ASL in high esteem. I am not suggesting people should sign SEE — nor am I suggesting they should not. Language is a matter of choice. My desire is for people to make educated choices about the language they use, which is why I want to make sure people who use the term SEE know what it actually is.
Cokely, D. (1983). When is pidgin not a pidgin? An alternative analysis on the ASL-English contact situation. Sign Language Studies, 38, pp. 1-24.
Davis, J. (1989). Distinguishing language contact phenomena in ASL. In C. Lucas (Ed.), The sociolinguistics of the Deaf community (pp. 85-102). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Lucas, C., & Valli, C. (1989). Language contact in the American Deaf community. In C. Lucas (Ed.), The sociolinguistics of the Deaf community (pp. 11-40). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.