Signed languages and the Hearing

Yesterday, I was tired of the Everything that TV offers. Instead, I retreated to my room and chose to watch ASL music videos. I have my favourites.  Most I’ve seen are done by learners of the language – mostly, of not all, Hearing – but one or two were done by the Deaf, so I’ve gotten to see every bit of the phonology used – hand shapes, movement, location, orientation, and the Non manual markers that, I didn’t see, or pick up on. Not even gonna start on the syntax, or pragmatics, or Semantics of it.

So yesterday I was, well, listening to the songs by one dude whose interpretations I like, and I was reading the comments on the videos he posted. Naturally he got reviews and critiques both good and bad. But the bad ones brought up a few things I was wondering about. He’s Hearing and picked up the language in high school. Since then he’s continued with it, and it’s taken him around, touring and signing with bands, and stuff.

Since he’s hearing, I wondered what the Deaf thought about his signing – good, bad, room for improvement, insulting even? Cuz, they have their own culture, who are we, the Hearing, to think that we could join in on this too? All that jazz. I mean, it’s significant jazz, but still. Apparently, what I got from the comments was that they do find it insulting. Not because he chose to sign, I think, but because – one claimed language/culture appropriation, another said that his signing was wrong, incomprehensible, and just plain bad. I’ll state that these comments and comments like these came from the Deaf and Hearing alike.

Also, I know that here in Trinidad, I dunno about Tobago, that people who approach the Deaf or Deaf advocates, tend to want to learn sign language, referring to ASL, not realising that TTSL exists, and the Deaf community tends to teach ASL instead, knowing that this was the case. Well, was fairly recently – to be fair – and now, TTSL classes are being taught so… Positive changes, man. And the Deaf, at least the people that I’ve communicated with, seem to not mind if the Hearing learn a sign language, whether ASL or TTSL.

Background a bit? From what I remember, ASL and BSL were brought to the islands, and these together with the home signs used by the deaf members of a community were all significant to the development of TTSL when the Cascade School of the Deaf began. TTSL was developed and used when the children communicated with each other outside the classroom, and the “official” (need a better adjective) ones were used inside the classroom. I think that’s the case for some, where ASL is the classroom language and TTSL, if known among the students,  is used outside. Like Trinidad Standard English, and Trinidad English Creole – two different languages used in two different situations. Still TTSL isn’t necessarily learned by the Deaf. I believe, most times, especially among certain groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or other groups, that ASL alone is taught. Most times. Not all the time. Most times.

Of course, I’m not an expert, so I could get this horribly wrong, so if any Trini people know better, please lemme know in the comments below.

So I’m wondering, putting all that aside, like, I don’t want it to bias any opinion or conclusion that I could have or get, this is for the Deaf community, of any Deaf community, anywhere – native signers, the culturally Deaf, the profoundly Deaf, Hard of Hearing, families and friends of the Deaf, anybody else I’m missing(?) – does it make sense for the Hearing to study and use the signed languages of a community? Is it good? Is it bad? If you know a Hearing person is learning any SL, would you personally help them, or let them know where to improve?  Or would you just tell them to stop? And why, in either case?

– K. ~


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