Date: Sun Mar 31, 2002 12:02
SignWriting List Forum
Subject: Re: Bible work started
While we are on the subject of proselytizing and SW, please indulge me by
taking heed of developments in Nicaragua, as these
raise concerns I have expressed in the past regarding the potential
repercussions from improper translations.
Hopefully, all of us know that ASL is not a form of English and that while
ASL is a language distinct from English, Signed English is just a manual
system for communicating in English. Signed English tends to corrupt ASL by
attempting to impose, rather artificially, English grammar and syntax upon
ASL, while at the same time altering ASL vocabulary to suit the needs of
native English speakers. Well, we are perhaps all sensitive to that.
Nicaraguan Sign Language is not a form of Spanish, although hearing people
unfamiliar with Deaf educational or linguistic issues usually assume the
contrary. It is a pardonable mistake by the uninitiated, and one easily
remedied through patient explanation.
There are today many evangelical Christian groups from the USA who are
operating in Nicaragua and at least one group is deliberately striving to
destroy the indigenous sign language in favor of Signed English. Rather
than simply admit this, they falsely claim to be using Nicaraguan Sign
Language. Here's how they do it. First, they translate Signed English into
Spanish. Thus, for example, the Signed English sign for the pronoun "I"
appears in their published dictionary as "yo", and so forth. The contorted
logic here is that if the sign has a Spanish gloss, then it must be a
Unfortunately, the Nicaraguan Deaf population is quite vulnerable, and this
group appears to be well funded.
SW, as we all know, is a fantastic system for presenting Biblical passages,
or for that matter Qu'ranic verse (my apologies if I misspelled that), in a
written medium accessible to literate Deaf readers. Evangelists in
Nicaragua have already begun to show an interest in using SW in their
missionary efforts -- how could they not!. Ordinarily, I would be the first
to encourage them, except that I am very concerned that in their zeal some
of these individuals have already shown that they are quite willing to
corrupt the indigenous sign language in the name of a greater purpose. That
strikes me as a dangerous form of arrogance! Frankly, I know of no better
way to wreak havoc on Nicaragua's sign language than by abusing the power of
the printed word.
So, let this be a warning to all of us, and not just those of us who
are dedicated to raising religious awareness in Deaf communities: The pen
is indeed mightier than the sword. Wield it carefully and responsibly.
-- James Shepard-Kegl