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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community
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ASL: English: English: English:
car car bus truck
figure iASL sign and English-based initialized signs.

Signs must be created for most closed class words (such as articles, prepositions, and pronouns) and morphemes for which there are no equivalent ASL signs (a, the, of, -ed, -ing, -able, dis-, un-, and so on). The handshapes of these morpheme signs usually correspond with the initial letters of the morphemes. As an example, an excerpt from the Pledge of Allegiance oath, “one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” is translated into SEE2 in Gustason et al. (1972) to show how English words should be signed (see Figure 2).

In SEE2, some signs are borrowed from ASL, including one, under, god, with, for, and #all. Some signs (except the lexicalized fingerspelled item, #all) are not initialized with alphabetic manual handshapes corresponding with the initial letters of English words because the signs represent a single concept and do not have synonyms to differentiate with the initialized handshapes. liberty is a derivative of the ASL sign save and is initialized with the L handshape to correspond with the initial letter of “liberty.” nation is understood as “country” in SEE2 but in ASL, it can mean several things depending on a context: “of course,” “natural,” “nature,” or “normal.” indivisible and justice are signed with the combination of signed morphemes. indivisible is signed with in- as a derivative of the ASL sign don’t with the initialized I handshape (instead of an open B handshape), divisi- as a derivative of divide with the initialized D handshape, and -ible is signed as able. justice is signed with invented signed morphemes for SEE2, just and -ice. With these SEE2 forms in the English order, it is possible to use them and speak English simultaneously. In contrast to SEE, ASL is a full-fledged language that is historically, grammatically, and structurally independent of spoken English. With the repertoire of manual signs, classifiers, and grammatically obligatory and optional nonmanual signals, an ASL signer can give a conceptually appropriate version of the same phrase (see Figure 3).

Signed English, another MCE variation, uses more conceptually accurate ASL signs that are signed in English order (Bernstein, 1990). Signed English also uses 14 sign markers to show plurals, verb tenses, possession, and some adjective and adverb morphemes (3–6):

1. Regular plural markers “-s” with the manual alphabet S used at the end of noun signs.
2. Irregular plural marker with a repeating movement in signs.
3. Regular past tense marker “-ed” with the manual alphabet D used at the end of signs.
4. Irregular past tense marker with the Open B handshape with one sweeping movement from the center of the body to outward.
5. Past particle marker “-en” with the manual alphabet N used at the end of signs.
6. Progressive tense marker “-ing” with the manual alphabet I with one swing motion at the end of signs.
7. Present tense marker “-s” with the manual alphabet S used at the end of verb signs.
8. Possessive marker “-’s” with the manual alphabet S with the single wrist twist motion used at the end of signs.
9. Adjective marker “-y” with the manual alphabet Y used at the end of signs.
10. Adverb marker “-ly” with two manual alphabet L and Y used at the end of signs.
11. Superlative marker “-er” with the ASL sign most at the end of signs.
12. Superlative marker “-est” with the ASL sign most with the greater movement.
13. Agent marker “-er” with the two Open B handshapes signifying the sign person at the end of signs.
14. Negative prefix marker (e.g., ‘”un-,” “in-,” and “dis-“) with the ASL sign not.
Signed English is designed to use fewer number of markers to make it less cumbersome for children and adults to learn. In fact, Signed English users are encouraged to use as few as four markers (i.e., possessive, irregular plural, irregular past tense, and progressive tense) within a context (Bernstein, 1990, 6). MCE systems such as SEE2 and Signed English are instructional tools intentionally designed to develop English skills in deaf and hard of hearing children.

Unlike MCE systems, there is one type of signing that is not by design and that occurs naturally with ASL and English elements; it is called contact signing (Lucas & Valli, 1992). Because of its incorporation of English elements, it has long been known as Pidgin Sign English (PSE), but the word pidgin is not an appropriate term for contact signing because it does not have the typical pattern and history of a pidgin (Lucas & Valli, 1992; Mather & Mather, 2003). A pidgin is a simplified language with reduced phonology, morphology, and grammar that arose from extended contact between groups of people who do not have a common language (Holm, 2000, pp. 4–5). A pidgin is normally based on a common language used in an area and is typically limited to a domain such as commercial activities in where the pidgin serves to make communication possible between different groups of language users. Contact signing is mistakenly called “pidgin” because it is considered a reduced form of English, but there is nothing reduced about it when it comes to ASL and even English characteristics. Contact signing takes on the richness of ASL with vocabulary, nonmanual signals, inflections in movement, and spatial locations. As for English in contact signing, it can be expressed by mouthing English words fully and fingerspelling English words or phrases. The amount of ASL and English characteristics used in contact signing depends on the degree of ASL/English bilingualism of signers and a setting where conversations take place.


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