|SignWriting List Forum|
Date: Sun Dec 5, 1999 7:14 pm
Subject: Re: country list
I hope to me in Amsterdam next summer to deliver two papers: the first, a
basic intro to SW; the second, a more insightful exploration of our
experiences with SW in Nicaragua (more on this in a moment.)
As I write the basic intro paper (a mere five pages -- easy to do), I am
noting those countries where one could fairly say at least one school is
pursuing some form of serious SW literacy experiment. I am browsing through
your web material, but I know that invariably I will omit someone. But, I
am hoping that almost off the top of your head you can produce such a list.
(The list seems to be growing monthly.)
The second paper, which I think will interest you, discusses some of the
dangers that I am seeing already with the use of SW. This is not an
inherent problem with the system (since I challenge anyone to produce a
stonger proponent of SW than myself), but with an educational philosophy
that has plagued Deaf communities long before SW was invented.
There will always be a strong and exceedingly persuasive argument that Deaf
children ought if possible learn to read and write the dominant hearing
language. Mastery of written English, for example, surely is a key to
achievement in American society, especially for Deaf people. (Similarly,
Nicaraguan Deaf are measured, some might say most unfairly, by their command
of spanish.) To me, literacy in SW solely for the purpose of reading and
writing a sign language is a most laudable end in itself, and will become
even more desirable as literature in SW develops. But, I think SW can also
be an extremely valuable tool as a bridge from literacy in ASL, for example,
to mastery of reading in English.
But, here is the problem (My guess is that you are familiar with this
already): In Nicaragua, teachers in Managua (not Bluefields, where I work)
emphasize two topics to the virtual exclusion of all other academics: basic
math and spanish. (Students do not learn much of either, by the way.)
Although the use of sign language today is encouraged (and Deaf adults are
finally being brought into the classroom to assist the hearing teachers),
students are left with the notion that for every sign, there is a direct
spanish equivalent -- and, conversely, for every spanish word, there is or
ought to be a sign equivalent. Signed English, of course, developed from
the same misconception. We are watching an effort by students and teachers
to corrupt Nicaraguan Sign Language into something more spanish-like.
In Bluefields, we have, until this summer, always taught SW through stories.
That is, words are shown in the context of full sentences, not as isolated
word lists. Of course, our intent was to teach literacy in Nicaraguan Sign
Language, not a second, "foreign" language, i.e., spanish. But, throughout,
we were always adding to our SignWriter dictionary files, which are
organized in both english (for my benefit) and spanish. Now, you know that
the sign for SIT-IN-AIRPLANE is not going to be written with the signs for
SIT and AIRPLANE as they appear in the SignWriter file, but with some
permutation involving those root signs and classifiers, and, heaven knows, I
drill my students in this. But, I have watched people (hearing and Deaf)
use my dictionaries (which I print out and distribute) in an attempt to
produce "signed spanish".
My dictionaries, in truth, are merely glossaries, and I am toying with the
notion of recalling them. More seriously, when Ivonne and Barney arrive
later this month, we will alter the dictionaries to provide sentences rather
than one word definitions for any word that lacks a one-on-one equivalent.
Hence, there will be
sentences for all verbs (since in spanish and ISN they are conjugated in
wholly different ways), for prepositions, adverbs, etc. Judy tells me that
there are some language teachers who advocate never ever introducing
glossaries. Hmmm, provocative....
So, why is SW potentially more dangerous than the old fashioned picture
glossaries? Answer: because SW is a vastly superior system for representing
the signs. If the user does not respect the integrity of the sign language
as a bona fide, distinct language, then SW can be used as an effective
weapon against the very language it was designed to complement.