Wednesday, March 28, 2007

403: ASL Paradoxii

My own response to Allison Kaftan's "Silent Hands Sculpt Epitome of Beauty... Not," with a nod to the Deaf Pagan Crossroads.
ME (after being told how beautiful my sign language was): Do you know there's over 100 different signed languages?

HEARING PERSON: No, really! That's amazing!

ME: And few of them make any sense to each other, they are all completely different.

HEARING PARROT: That's so stupid! Deaf people should only have one language!

ME: You would destroy that much beauty? (Walk away)
But then there's:
DEAF PARROT, SIGNING VERY FAST TO SHOW HE CAN: Me use only ASL! No English! English hard!

ME: Well, yes, but they're both languages, and therefore English is as beautiful as ASL, just sorta... leaky. Dribbling.

DEFF PERRAULT: But ASL have own grammar, own structure, own vocabulary, etc., etc., same English! (smiles, as if he's proved a point)

ME (pause): So... why is English so much harder? Do you know any OTHER signed languages? What do you think of BSL? LSF? If we're a cultural group do we still have the right to demand interpreters under the Americans with *Disabilities* Act? But then don't we gain rights under language charters? My point is, if we're saying we're a culture and a language group, don't the boundaries change?

DEAF MAN: No! Because we're Deaf! We have to have rights!

ME: So we need a totally new group, because we're not disabled, but we're not just a culture, either? (And maybe we do.)
HEERING PEEPUL: ASL! (siiiiiiigh) So pretty!

RAINMOUND: Can I tell you a story about sign language?


RAINMOUND: Do you know in the old days signed languages were the inspiration for what we know as magic? Witches knew signed languages. They were wise old women and healers who would go round the country and be nosy and check on people, and being nosy and intelligent they could talk to Deaf people. Witches would meet the poor Deafie in the woods and bring him food and dance with him and sign with him, and the jealous townspeople would say, See that witch, she goes to speak with the Devil, the duyvil, the Deaf-ill, the Deaf man, we must burn him, we must end her, we must drown her heart... They hated the nosy old ones who were smarter than they were and far more pitiless so they said, knowing perfectly well the truth, that the moving hands were witchy gestures, and they had their excuse and burned the scary gesturing witch but they never caught the Deaf man, who ran naked through the woods and through the high alcoves of roaring trees.

Deaf people never forgot the witches, and the witches never forgot the Deaf, and even today Deaf people are blessed always with the wonder of a witch's last dance, all because they could speak our language, all because these hands had meaning... and witches, even on television, still twitch their noses and wave their hands...

DID THEY EVEN UNDERSTAND?: But... sign language is SO beautiful!
And then there's:
DEAF WOMAN: I not trust VP (videophone) interpreter, no! But I want to communicate in my sign language!

ME: But you have to accept that not all hearing people have VP. Suppose you accept go ahead VP, must accept ASL interpreter will see your SSN number!

DEAF WOMAN: No, no, no, me not accept, no! Must direct VP to bank with my beautiful sign language!

ME (exasperated:) Fine. How you think the bank person will understand you, with your beautiful sign language?

DEAF WOMAN (pause): Can they get an interpreter?
And so, to quote Kurt Vonnegut: And so it goes.


Virginia L. Beach said...

Great post, Rainmound!

Many thanks for mentioning my blog!

~ Ocean
"Deaf Pagan Crossroads"

Keri said...

*snicker* You poor thing, having to deal with those people...oh, wait, poor me too! =P

BTW, in Ladd's book, he mentioned that there are over 200 signed languages. ;)

Mr. Sandman said...

I'm in awe. A very good post (out of many good posts, really!). You bring up some good questions, including one of my favorites: if we're not "disabled," then why are we entitled to the benefits that come with being "disabled"? (I know that's not what you said, but it's still related to an extent to your point)

Hm. Given the amount of consumer-info breaches these days, I think I'd trust the *interpreter* with my data far more than I would the lowly-paid peon who takes my private information and then turns around and either loses it when they carelessly leave that laptop out to be stolen, or turn around and sell off the numbers to the highest bidder. I suppose it doesn't occur to them that the text relay operators shouldn't be trusted either...?

Joseph Rainmound said...

Thanks Virginia and Keri - nice to see you on here again.

Hi Sandman - well the short answer for myself is that being Deaf is a social disability and has a disproportionate effect on one's life in this society. We are fighting to change it, but in the meantime, it does create huge difficulties in getting adequate education, work, housing, etc., and we all have experience with the daily frustrations which take their toll on our minds and hearts. Yes, we have to learn to deal with it, but this is not a forgiving society.

It's not an answer I'm totally comfortable with, but it does help me put things in perspective.

Mr. Sandman said...

Oh, I agree deafness is a social disability (far more than it is a physical disabiity, imho)-- I just find it funny quite a few folks don't want to be called "disabled" or consider being deaf "disabled," yet want the benefits that come with being "disabled."

Jonathan said...


Goes to show that a little common sense can go a long way. BUT that doesn't stop good points from going over the head of some folks. They sometimes just go on and on about how BEYOOOTUHFULLLL sign language is. I could swear that they're just hypnotized by our signing hands.