SEE: Allow me to disabuse you of a common misnomer

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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.

References

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.

Luetke-Stahlman, B. & Milburn, W.O. (1996 March). A history of Seeing Essential English (SEE I). American Annals of the Deaf (141). Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=EJ535800

Video

Workshops in Minnesota, November 2012

Hi, Minnesota! I’m Daniel Greene, and I’m going to be in Minneapolis – St. Paul the weekend of Friday, November 9th and Saturday, November 10th presenting two workshops. The first one, on Friday night from 6pm to 9pm, is about fingerspelling and pronouncing foreign names and words. It’s fascinating all the different spellings and sounds there are in different languages, and in America, in the English language, we have so many sounds from all over the world. And we’ll be talking about spelling rules and sound systems. (more…)

Video

American Sign Language (ASL) Hangout On Air, Interpreted

I participated in a Google+ Hangout On Air about American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf culture by interpreting for Dylan, a Deaf man who shared his perspectives. I interpreted consecutively so that people could watch Dylan without voice interference; I also interpreted consecutively rather than simultaneously with the aim of providing a more accurate and natural interpretation. I interpreted for the first 15 minutes until 7pm PDT. For the rest of the Hangout, Dylan took questions in the Chat window and answered them using his voice. (more…)

Video

Resources for teaching development of professional practice

I made this video to fulfill an assignment in Teaching Ethics and Professional Practice at Western Oregon University’s MA in Interpreting Studies program with a concentration in Teaching Interpreting. The assignment was to share the process I went through to find materials to share in classes, in mentoring, or in my own work as an interpreter. Some of these resources were new to me; some of the resources I share in the video are recaps of what I have shared on this blog in the past few weeks. I am sorry I don’t have the time to transcribe and closed-caption the video for those who do not know ASL, but if you read my recent blog posts in addition to what is below, you already know what I was describing in the video. Here are the resources I describe:

Videos

United States Courts Federal Judiciary. (2010, September 23.) Nuremberg interpreter recalls historic trials [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvY_1bMAZWY

Activities

Watching or participating in professional online discussion forum such as the #IntJC or #EPT Twitter chats (Interpreter Journal Club and Endless Possibilities Talks, respectively). I have participated in both in the past two weeks, and it has been beneficial both to me and them for spoken and signed language interpreters and translators to discuss their work with each other. For more info, see Interpreter joins the #IntJC Twitter form and Notes on “A Conversation with Translators.”

Websites

Greene, D. (n.d.) TerpTrans: An ASL-English interpreter/trainer on interpreting, transliterating, and translation. http://terptrans.com

Shameless plug for my own blog. Many potential and practicing interpreters have found the pages and posts in this blog to be useful, and I am working hard at making it ever more professional and global. Feel free to review it! I’m open to feedback.

Articles

Klemenc-Ketis, Z. & Kersnik, J. (2011, August 23). Using movies to teach professionalism to medical students. BMC Medical Education 11(16). Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6920/11/60