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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Many Ways to Be Deaf: International Variation in Deaf Communities

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Figure 12.2 TELL THE TWO OF THEM (Smith 1989, 194)

The Chiying signers mark the gender of subject and object on verbs the same way that other TSL signers do, so the sign in Figure 12.1 was acceptable to them. However, the Chiying signers rejected expressions like that in Figure 12.2. Though other TSL signers can inflect the weak hand’s handshape for number, the Chiying signers cannot. For them, the way to express the idea “tell the two of them” is for the strong hand to articulate the verb twice while the weak hand maintains a handshape not marked for number.

Second, TSL has been analyzed as having three auxiliaries called Aux 1, Aux 2 and Aux 11 (Smith 1989, Smith 1990). Aux 1, the most frequent, looks like a point from location x to location y. Aux 2 looks like the TSL sign KAN (SEE). Aux 11 looks like the TSL sign DUI YU (MEET) (Smith 1989, Smith 1990). Although the Chiying signers regularly used Aux 2 and Aux 11, I did not observe nor could I elicit Aux 1. When I asked directly if Aux 1 was possible, all of the Chiying TSL signers were certain that it wasn't (Ann 1998). Clearly many questions remain about TSL dialects.

Attitudes Toward Language: Written Chinese, Signed Mandarin, and TSL

As a signer of ASL as a second language, I had a sense of what communicating in a visual language is like, how my hearing interferes with aspects of learning a sign language, and how I might best learn a new sign language. Armed with this knowledge, I was a ready student of TSL. But the Chiying deaf people, who hold the Chinese language in high esteem, seemed convinced that I had come to the school to interact in some way with the hearing people there, for example, as an English teacher. My real purpose was not understood until later and was always regarded, I sensed, to be a bit absurd. After all, as the Chiying deaf people asked me point blank, who would come halfway around the world to learn TSL and interact with them? In the beginning, then, as I would try to engage the Chiying deaf adults and children in TSL conversation, they would try to help me with my written Chinese characters. For example, if I asked about a particular sign, people seemed to think I was asking them to show me the Chinese characters for the word. But I showed little interest and less promise in practicing my characters, and day by day, I was learning to articulate my thoughts more clearly in signs, so the Chiying deaf people eventually gave up using written characters with me.

Although linguistic and cultural issues occupy a central place in the lives of many Deaf Americans, the same could not be said about the situation among Taiwanese deaf people, according to what I saw at the Chiying School. The Chiying deaf people considered the views and preferences of the hearing world to be important and certainly dominant. Despite this view, the tacit understanding was that deaf people also had their own needs and concerns. These needs would simply not be addressed by society, but that issue seemed to be an entirely different matter to them.


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