Wednesday, January 13, 2010

sign language - ASL. Thoughts.

A few years back, I tried dating on CampusKiss.
Waiting for my date, I spotted a hot blonde woman across the street.
I thought to myself, "I sure hope SHE is my date!" ... she was.
We had coffee dates for a couple of years, though we never became an item.
I learned enough sign language to get by - barely.

Fast forward a few years. In Ontario, sign language is considered an official gov't language.
A deaf person can insist in service in ASL the same as a French person can insist.
I am still pondering becoming a police officer, so now it is a job skill.

But how to learn?
I am chopping up an ASL dictionary. I will clip the 300 most common English words onto cue cards.
From there, I pick various subject themes. Politics. Religion. Insults. Talking dirty. Why? More memorable!
I tested, and can learn 100 signs per week easily enough. In theory, I could be fluent in six months.
Actually, I find signs easier to learn than other spoken languages. No awkward phonemes.
Also, ASL often resembles the complexity level of a pidgin or creole. Little grammar.
Of course, the devil is in the details.

There is deaf etiquette to consider.
Note: deaf is not an insult. It's how they self-identify. Not "hard of hearing". That is just politically correct B.S..
You need to get their attention, but not be patronizing about it.
You need to keep your face visible. Lip-saying the words helps. Facial expressions are important.

The language is not just a simple form of English.
One topicalizes the main aspect of the sentence, then talks about it.
Assigning pronouns and various people their own 'imaginary space' is a powerful tool.
It resembles the ability of Lojban to show various persons by indicating chronological order.
The 'directional verbs' are darn handy. The sign for 'help' can mean I help you or you help me.
It just changes the direction of the hand motion.

A coupla more thoughts.
The word for home is a compound of the words for eat and sleep. Home is where you eat and sleep.
A few words have more nuance than their English counterparts. The preposition "for" can be an abstract internal concept, or else an external 'function-of-something' concept.
There are generally fewer ways to say a concept. A single sign can often have a half dozen meanings, depending on context.
Alternatively, there ARE quite a few ways to say very basic pantomime ideas. For example, "high".

There are bundles of related concepts that share a basic sign element. There are concepts using the letter "Y" that involve mental processes. Alternatively, one simply points at one's brain for other mental concepts.
There are various sign languages in the world. The word "OK" leads to some comical misunderstandings in Europe.
Also, the heavy use of signed-alphabet-letter symbols makes it culturally specific. For example, a cupped hand for "C".
In parts of the world that don't default to our Roman Alphabet, this will be as clear as mud.
For example, the signed word for "picture" is the C-shape slapped onto the palm of the other hand. Camera pic.

Deaf subculture relies heavily on lipreading. I realized how deficient I was while dating "C". She'd lip the words and figure that would help me understand. Of course I could not lipread, nor could I multitask enough to pay attention to two things.

I used to watch West Wing. Well, I think that show creates unreal expectations about the ability of deaf signing to interact in real time with English speaking. I'm sure there are a few experts out there that could refute this.
But I am not sure one can sign as fast as rapid clipped English speech conveys meaning.
Also, since only about 40% of sounds can be lip-read, the idea of a full-speed 100% accurate lip-reading - and from bad angles and in bad lighting- seems highly improbable.

Visemese was my solution to this. It ONLY has lip-readable sounds. And only one of each position. So it is perfectly clear for lip-reading. I happened to pick math as the topic for the first 1/5 installment of the language. But a basic utilitarian vocabulary could make an interesting universal-deaf aux-lang. Everything nation or region-specific sign language is not.
I imagine I'll go back and try that at some point in the future. I'm practicing my lip-reading off cue cards.

Aside - is there a complete list of Toki Pona vocabulary somewhere? I just need a simple complete LIST. Major oversight.


masukomi said...

Re. Toki Pona: Yeah, there's a complete list of the vocabulary and it's exactly where you'd expect it to be. On There's a "toki pona words" link on the left. And yes, it looks like an incomplete list, but it isn't. It's just a very tiny language with only 123 words.

Matthew said...

Fans have created dictionaries of commonly used phrases (e.g. telo walo is usually read as milk) See this link: and look on it for Clifford's TP to English Google Docs spreadsheet. Somewhere out there is a sign language version of tp.

dino snider said...

Actually, M, I just checked. It has a highly incomplete list of vocabulary, with only a few topics selected. Unless it is hiding somewhere other than under "vocabulary"...

dino snider said...

... which it was. I looked some more and found an entry for "Toki Pona words". Yup, there is was. Not a handy format. I need to click on each word separately to see the English definition. Is a summarized master list anywhere? In promoting a language, there is many a slip between cup and lip. D.

dino snider said...

OK finally found it. Took a bit of doing. My roomie couldn't find it either- meaning it is likely hard to find.

Matthew said...

Well there's the bknight lessons

Incomplete list? Did you find the excel spreadsheets? The ones with one tab per letter? Last time I counted, it had ~1000 phrases. The 117-125 word list can be found in many places

When (or if) Sonja ever published the new toki pona book, it will likely be the one stop shop for toki pona. I hope.