Sigh… The Magic of Signed English…

The Magic of Sign Language DVD

I have been inactively awaiting the newly released DVD The Magic of Sign Language for some time, perhaps more than a year. I saw it advertised on Facebook.

But something told me that I would be disappointed. Despite that, though, soon after it was released, I decided to give it a try. It turns out I was right. And it saddens me.

I hoped that an instructional video made by Jamaican Deaf would teach Jamaican Sign Language, not Signed English. There is always a barrier between the Deaf signing community and the hearing; and that barrier is Signed English. It lulls the hearing into a false sense of security, so they can feel a sense of pride (“I know Jamaican Sign Language!”) and yet in a fully Deaf signing environment, they end up totally lost.

Deaf that know Signed English often use it with the hearing who sign. To aid in communication? Certainly. But at the same time, maybe there’s something else, too. Just like many speakers of Patwa, maybe somewhere in their consciousness or subconsciousness, they feel their language is inferior. Some Deaf don’t want to be seen signing in public. (Signed) English means correct, means educated.

And so, they produce a video that propagates the lazy sign-learning of the hearing. With “I”s and “was”es and “are”s; the true beauty and magic of the language is lost. The framework in which signs slowly begin to find their way around a language with a different structure never gets a chance to develop in the learner’s brain.

I wouldn’t say the DVD is a waste, though. It’s a great way for beginners to learn new signs. I wish, however, that the actual language of the Jamaican Deaf community were used in this teaching. As entertaining as all 40+ minutes of it are, I am afraid I’d give it around 2 or 3 stars out of 5.

But it’s a good start for the Deaf community, I think. And a start is precisely what anyone needs.

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4 Responses to Sigh… The Magic of Signed English…

  1. read.robin says:

    Very interesting look at the way culture affects our use of language. This is certainly a major issue in the Jamaican language landscape, and I had no idea it extended to the Deaf community as well.

    So Signed English is basically a transliteration of English, rather than an actual language with rules of its own? Why would Deaf feel that it’s superior to JSL? JSL sounds so much more ‘proper’.

    You’re beginning to sound like an advocate, Ken. 🙂


    • kenliano says:

      For the same reason, I guess that a Jamaican would think English is superior. Even in the US, it was only a few decades ago that even Deaf recognised ASL as a genuine language with grammar and structure. It wasn’t thought to have potential as a language of education. In early (modern) history, education has taken the form of merely teaching them to speak (Oralism). That eventually evolved into teaching only in Signed English, which is still done today in many schools. It’s easy for adult Deaf to feel their language isn’t superior. :/ Just a theory, though.

      Yeah, Signed English (in its various forms…) is a representation of English, following English structure and rules as far as a codified representation of spoken language can.

      🙂 An advocate, huh?


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