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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Accent (02/21/13)

TITLE: American Sign Language with a Southern Accent
By Janet Richey
02/28/13


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Both of my parents were born in the mid-1930's. They lost their hearing in the first year of their lives, to childhood diseases virtually irradiated by modern immunizations. Until they entered school when they were six years old, they had no training in how to communicate, except by rudimentary body movements, and with voices they couldn't hear. For all of you parents out there, let that sink in for a moment. For the first six years of their lives these two kids, and so many others like them in that time period, had no way of effectively, or appropriately communicating their hurts, their fears, their sadness, or even their love. They had no language.
So it is quite remarkable that my parents would learn how communicate through sign-language with other deaf people, and through lip-reading, and their own controlled voices with the hearing world. Until I was a parent myself, I would not understand why my grandma would get a tear in her eye when talking about the first time my dad came home after being sent away to school, and said “mother”. I get a tear in my eye just thinking about it.
At state run deaf schools, Mom and Dad learned everything they needed to function in society. Math, history, health, etiquette, home making skills, but above all, speech. Most of them got jobs, got married and had children; hearing children, like me, and my siblings.
Sign-language wasn't so much a second language for me as it was a parallel one. I didn't “speak” English and sign-language interchangeably, I spoke them at the same time. While American Sign Language, (ASL) is the standard form of communication among the deaf, there is also Signed Exact English, or SEE. ASL uses one sweeping sign to express several words or thoughts, dropping all but the subject and verb in a sentence. It's like sign-language short hand. SEE is what it sounds like. You sign every single word. I grew up with a mixture of both.
Picking up on the nuances of sign-language is an interesting study. In subtle ways, you can express your emotions through facial expressions, pauses and speed, much like a writer uses punctuation. Facial expression is sometimes more important than the sign itself. In other words, there was no doubt in my mind how my parents felt in any given situation.
Sign-language is not one-size-fits-all. Each language has it's own signs, and signs differ from region to region. Signs commonly used in a deaf community in the north east, will differ slightly from signs used in the south. I compare them to accents, in the spoken language. Even though “you guys” from New York, or “yens” if you're from Western Pennsylvania, sound very different from a southern “y'all”, everybody knows it's referencing “all of you”. It is much the same way for sign-language. For example, in my home the sign for “birthday” was a tug of the ear. Elsewhere, it is actually signed “born day”. But instinctively, we all know that it means the same thing.
Conversely, there is a universal feel to sign-language that I find lacking in the spoken English language. A good example of this is when my parents went to France, and my dad met another deaf man. Signs in French are different from that in English, but amazingly, and probably intuitively, they were able to communicate with one another. In other countries doing missionary work, he encountered the same thing.
In this same vein, I am reminded of Romans 8:28 “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” ESV
When I don't know what I am supposed to be praying for, when my brain is stirred up like vegetable soup, I think of God saying “Hey, I know what you mean!” He knows my thought process, he knows the bunny trails it goes down, but He also knows the language my jumbled thoughts speak. He knows my heart, because I am made in His image.
Maybe the same can be said for deaf people. While their differences are cultural, and even generational, there is an intrinsic connection that allows them to understand one another. Then I wonder why the body of Christ cannot do the same thing.


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This article has been read 193 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/01/13
I really enjoyed this article. I think you did a great job describing what life was like for you growing up. I also think you did a nice job of coming up with an out of the box story that is still on topic. I think the scripture you chose was a great fit. You did a nice job.
Amy Michelle Wiley 03/01/13
I'm a professional sign language interpreter and I love all the sign accents, too. Here in the Northwest for "birthday" we use a sign similar to "favorite" that starts on the chin and then moves to the chest. I've heard there are so many signs for that one word!

I found it interesting in my linguistic studies in college that ASL doesn't actually drop words, but rather is a completely different language and grammar system than English. It also uses space and movement to show relationships between words instead of some of the smaller words English adds in. ASL originates from France, so it makes sense your dad was able to communicate so easily there. Very cool.
Loni Bowden-Horn03/02/13
Although I have taken a few classes in ASL Sign language, your writing described beautifully the importance of facial expressions and how isolating it can be from the rest of the world.

It is a totally different language and can vary in different parts of the country. The deaf or hard of hearing community is a tight-knit group.

I think sign language is a beautiful expression of one's heart.

Thank you for sharing your family's story.
Joseph Veseli03/03/13
I very much enjoyed this. I loved the background and information regarding sign language. It made for a great read.

I especially love the Scripture and how you view it. Very eye opening and gave me something to really think about! Great job!
CD Swanson 03/05/13
Interesting and wonderful job with your entry. I enjoyed it from start to finish.

God bless~
Judith Gayle Smith03/05/13
Terrific article! I learned a wee bit, and enjoyed reading this through. Thank you for great information.

Loving you in through and because of Jesus, the Christ . . .

Have you "thrown a brick"?
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Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/07/13
Congratulations for placing 6th in your level! The highest rankings (top 15 in level one and the top 35 overall) can be found on the message boards.