I wonder if that’s right….

One of my new favourite TV shows Switched at Birth, features American Sign Language, ASL, quite prominently. Sometimes I wonder if Signed English ends up filtering in, though. I mean, it wouldn’t be that surprising. It’s part of bilingualism.


The sentence that is subtitled as “I hated being deaf” is what interested me. Emmett fingerspells “being”. (Or at least it seems that way; my fingerspelling isn’t all that great.) I thought that was weird since both ASL and JSL don’t have the verb ‘to be’ (am, is, are, etc.). So, why would Emmett fingerspell that…? Hmm…

If I was expressing that idea, I’d sign something like “I hate what I deaf.” These kinds of sentences are hard to sign for people who go from English to ASL/JSL. I had to ask Deaf about how to sign “I don’t want to be a father.” I got answers like, “I want.neg (don’t want) children.” And they said you can add at the end, “Father, me? No.” When expressing ideas in another language, you often have to use a very different sentence order.

So, what I wonder… Is ‘being’ a lexicalised English loan-word in ASL? (Meaning, it became a fully functional word in the language.) Other words like ‘all’ work that way. Or was Emmett being idiosyncratic? Or… did the actor just sign it wrong?

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8 Responses to I wonder if that’s right….

  1. read.robin says:

    Most likely the actor signed it wrong? I think the hardest part of mastering a new language is learning to think in that language, not just translating from your base language. Most languages are structured differently from English, so you have to articulate the thought in that language from the get go.

    I wonder if it would help to think in English, but think in the structure of the language you’re trying to learn. I shall do that for Korean! I mean, that for Korean, I shall do! 🙂

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  2. :) says:

    Interesting. Perhaps he did it because he hates being deaf and is trying to speak English rather than Sign?

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  3. Mel says:

    ken, u dont know how upset i got just watching this clip! i hate injustice. it is beyond me why people does not give other people a chance, why does everyone seem to be intimidated by difference! gosh it is so depressing.

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  4. Mel says:

    sorry i was talking about the clip when he got locked up!

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  5. Pingback: He actually answered! | Mr. Multilingual

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