Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Accent (02/21/13)
TITLE: American Sign Language with a Southern Accent
By Janet Richey
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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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