He actually answered!

Do you remember the post “I wonder if that’s right….“? In it, I sort of wondered out loud about something in one of my favourite shows, Switched at Birth. The sentence seemed to be less than perfect ASL.

So, late last week, I decided to ask Bill Vicars about it. You know that fingerspelling practice page I’ve mentioned a few times http://asl.ms? Dr. Vicars is the brilliant mind behind that. And not to mention the ASL learning tool and dictionary www.lifeprint.com.

I e-mailed him, and got an answer within the hour! Awesome, huh? Here’s that he said:

Here we have a situation of a writer having written a script for an audience that speaks a language that is different from the language of one of the actors.

“I hate being _____” (whatever) is a very powerful phrase in English.

To express that concept in ASL as efficiently as possible while allowing the dialog to flow between the two conversants the scriptwriter (and or the actor) chose to fingerspell “being.”

In real life, you might indeed see “being” expressed that way, or you might see something along the lines of a gesture that looks like a flat hand, palm up, angled so as to point back toward yourself, moving down about a foot and a half. (It is somewhat of an awkward movement). It means “I am” or “this is me” and could fit into the concept of “that I am.”

However, since that gesture/sign is somewhat awkward and can convey a bit of pretentiousness the more safe route for actor was to simply spell “being.”

Yes, you could sign “Index-“I/me” HATE Index-“I/me” DEAF.” That doesn’t “quite” convey the same depth and intent as “being.”

The deeper issue we need to recognize here is that even though ASL is a separate and autonomous language, is often used in diglossic situations (look up: diglossia). Thus an experienced and skilled language user draws upon the language of his conversation partner for emphasis and clarity in any given language exchange.

So, it isn’t technically correct ASL, but it can happen in certain conversations.

There are a few other instances in the show when the characters (especially the hearing ones) use some distinct Englishisms in their ASL. Once, Daphne fingerspells “We?” when questioning Emmett about his referring to himself and Bay, even though he used the ASL equivalent pronoun, and didn’t fingerspell. So, it’s possible that they do this to coincide with the (most likely English) script and subtitles, and that’s what I feel is most likely. I dunno… I’d think their ASL coach would have weeded those out? I dunno.

What’s interesting, though, is that, at least in Jamaica, some Deaf sort of mix Signed English and JSL, partially because of Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD) teaches using Signed English, so,as my JSL teacher says, their “habit” comes up.

With the spoken language issues we have in Jamaica, it’s sort of interesting to see them with the sign community as well. Like Dr. Vicars, though, I’d encourage people who want to learn sign to learn the common/standard among native local Deaf, which, in my country, is JSL. It’s a lot more fun, anyway!

Anyway, thanks, Dr. Vicars!

*Diglossia (in a completely non-linguistic definition) is a situation in which two dialects or languages are used in the same language community.

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One Response to He actually answered!

  1. Michal says:

    Very cool!


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