Tuesday, June 25, 2013

American Sign Language and Abortion

Since it's the summer, I have a unusual office schedule. I try to maintain regular office hours and a routine, but because of the lack of students around, my cell phone can be somewhat distracting. I took a small break and checked my phone to see that a friend of mine had posted this short post from The Crescat. All it showed was a simple GIF of "abortion" translated in American Sign Language.

"Abortion" in American Sign Language

I am not fluent in American Sign Language but I remember my college classes in ASL quite clearly. We had a young adjunct professor who was deaf and didn't always use her cochlear implants. She chose not to use them, not because she was being rude, but to help correct our movements and rid us from our bad signing habits. As young signers, we slurred, spoke with a drawl and learned that what one movement says does not mean the same when quickly repeated.

I had American Sign Language as a block class for two and a half hours every Tuesday and Thursday. We would have a portion of the class that was book review and exercise, then the second portion was always conducted in sign to the best of our ability but in complete silence. If we didn't know a word and it wasn't in our glossary, finger spelling became our best friend. We were also required to have so many lab hours per chapter. Lastly we were required to attend events within the Deaf Community.

We were asked to keep signing as much as possible and mention that we were students just learning to sign. I have never been introduced to a more welcoming group of individuals in my life. It was through these immersion events over pizza and awareness that we learned how key facial expressions and eye contact truly were. Nothing was more annoying to them than a person who was to distracted by others. 

The other important thing I learned about the Deaf Community was how personal everything was. Each person has a unique name given to them by someone else within the community. Sure there can be multiple Amandas but there is only one you. Secondly, every sign is truly different but is meant to invoke a particular point of knowledge. For instance the sign for milk mimics the action of squeezing an udder to receive milk. A student is the personification of someone pulling knowledge from a book. Abortion, as we see above, is the  intentional discarding of a baby.

American Sign Language is meant to show the exact meaning of words. Words are chosen because of their precise meanings. If you need another meaning, you choose another sign. Even as a hearing people we use signing far more often than we realize. We use body language and gestures to emphasize what we say. As I look at the sign for abortion and look back on the experiences that I had as a student, it breaks my heart to see abortion like this. It hurts so much because there is a community of Americans who are stating what abortion truly is, whether they agree with it or not.