ASL Week Two (notes)


Last week we learned that American Sign Language (ASL) is quite different in syntax and structure from English. It is  primarily a visual language, and the parts of speech are rearranged to reflect that emphasis on the “things” first, before they are described or acted upon.

Now, a little bit about deafness: Just like a left-handed person living in a primarily right-handed world, deaf people are at a disadvantage living in a primarily hearing world. They are not disabled in the sense of the word that we are used to: they are mobile, they can think clearly and well. They are intelligent. Deaf people are just like you and me (hearing folks). They can be funny or serious. They can be weird, too. Just like the rest of us. The problem comes when they are unable to join our conversations because we are using a different language. Deafness can be extremely isolating. They are isolated because they do not know our language in the same way that we know it and they do not learn in the same ways as hearing people. You, as a hearing person, would be very surprised to learn how much of your customs, culture, and language you pick up simply by overhearing it. Deaf people do not have the same access to “overhearing” unless they grow up in a signing environment.

So, I invite you to join me in learning American Sign Language: ASL. Learning allows you to build a bridge to the deaf community and allow you to move into their world and get to know some really nice and interesting people-all while learning an incredibly fun and descriptive language.

One thing you will have to decide early on is: which is your dominant hand? Generally, the hand you fingerspell with will be your dominant hand. If you are right-handed, most likely you will fingerspell with your right hand. We will begin learning signs that require two hands and when you learn these signs you will have to know which hand is your dominant and which is your non-dominant and leave it that way. You can’t switch in the middle of a conversation. So, let’s decide which hand is your dominant one and stick with it!

The answer key for today’s quick quiz: AnswerKey WK2

Our conversational phrase for today is: What is your name? 

Numbers 11-20

Signs we learned today: deaf, hard of hearing, hearing, self (I, me, my)

Each week I will try and tell you just a little bit about what I know about deaf culture. Some of it is funny and sweet. Some of it is just plain different. It requires that you be sensitive to the differences that exist between the deaf and hearing cultures. It’s not something we laugh at or make some of someone who is different, but it’s simply a way to get to know the differences that exist between the deaf and hearing world. Being deaf, or involving yourself in the deaf community, opens up an entirely different culture. They have their own kinds of jokes and “visual puns.”  They share a way of thinking that is different from their hearing friends and neighbors.

One neat story that I remember hearing is a hearing teacher who was hanging out with a group of Kindergartners and something came up about toast…maybe they were making the morning snack…I don’t know….but all of these sweet hearing-impaired kids thought that when bread changed to toast, it made a BIG noise. They saw a physical transformation as indicating a change in sound.


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