Up for anything new? How about writing in ASL? Can ASL become a written language on paper? Should ASL have a written form? I don't mean GLOSS or anything that uses the Alphabet belonging to the aural language. I mean a written system entirely for sign language in the
This blog (in English, of course) is an opportunity to discuss the need for a written system for American Sign Language (ASL). My MA Thesis under the Deaf Studies Department at
"This proposal answers the often overlooked need for a written system for American Sign Language (ASL), and how that need leads to the creation of a new ASL writing industry. The proposal also justifies the claim for such a need by showing how, historically, writing systems have come to build cities and societies, roads and opportunities, literature and the entertainment industry. Above all, this proposal demonstrates how all written forms have become wholly phonetic-based systems representing phonetic language, thus leaving sign language, which is visually based, without a written form. This begs the question: in a world where there are over 3,000 languages, with a third having a written version (“Writing Systems of the World,” 2003.), where is the written system for a language of visual modality? This lack of a written system for ASL is a calling to establish one. Furthermore, this proposal examines past and current attempts at establishing a written system for sign language, in addition to elements of writing, and explores why this new system is ideal compared to past attempts."
The thesis discusses lingual colonialism in the mind and education of deaf people and how many see no need for a written system since there is one already out, the English writing system, for the American deaf people. This sort of 'already out there' is an unconscious act of dependency on the language having been taught, thus this became a colonizing pedagogy not of and by ASL and not deaf centered, through the curriculum written by society at large.
Also at issue is the identity created and maintained from writing. As a writer I often sat down to write stories with one troubling question that hung in my mind, back and front, besides me and on the screen...if I cannot write in my own language, then who am I?
What this (the question of Who am I?) means is that when writing a novel or story, "I search for a word to better fit the message I had in mind. The message was an image, an idea, a thought, yet it was without language. There were two languages I knew: ASL and English. ASL was my main language; therefore, the thought was picked up by ASL. Since ASL has no formalized written system, English took the reins and became the vehicle of passage from thought to written word. As old practice went, I searched for an English word to best fit the idea so eloquently expressed in ASL. More often than not I had to rethink the idea as I stripped it of its ASL version, manipulating it under the influence of English, before I could put the thought on paper. I was continuously doing translation work, careful to not compromise the message.
"This developed an acquiescent purpose of ASL, which allowed a dangerous precedence to emerge: linguistic colonialism."
Recipe for linguistic colonialism
"To possess none a written form of one’s native language is a perfect recipe for linguistic colonialism. Linguistic colonialism is the result of several forces, most notably the education policy as written in English, therefore becoming a language policy as well. This policy dictates a curriculum where English is the language of education, reading, writing, and so on, which creates a dilemma for ASL users. Until Stokoe published his findings that ASL was indeed a language, ASL was not placed in the curriculum as a study or as the language of the classroom, a practice that continues even to this day. Only upon the discretion of each school – often within deaf teachers’ classrooms – has ASL been the language of instruction.
"It is important to note regarding the lack of the written system for ASL is concerned: For those who cannot read and write (English, for example) a book or any other written document this becomes a clear indicator of “their own ignorance and powerlessness; of which fact the educated few can and, of course, do take advantage.” One of the most important consequences of writing is that it is “a powerful instrument of social control (Coulmas, 2003).”
"Remarkably, I wasn’t alone in this struggle in my writing. In 1962, an author in
Literature greatly reflects a culture and language, beliefs and philosophy, politics and economy. What better way to preserve all of this, our own identity in print, and forever? By that, all of this will then spawn greater studies in literature, economics, politics, and so on in academic setting by the hundreds in a short time--that all of this was written by deaf hands anywhere across the US and the world.
The thesis has 4 chapters. Chapter 3 discusses the construct and structure of the written system and introduces the Digibet. The Digibet is a set of written symbols of hand shapes. The Digibet's counterpart is the Alphabet for the spoken language's written system. It is important to acknowledge the purpose, properties and structure of the language of visual modality, and how it differs from that of the aural modality.
As I begin my quest for the written system for ASL, I hope you readers shall join me in this endeavor to make this a possibility. Your ideas on how to make this possible are welcomed. I cannot do this alone, for this language belongs to our deaf/ASL community, and we alone can write ourselves into the pages of society.