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Cultural Misconceptions about Deaf People & the Challenge for the Courts: Part 2: Variable Communication Methods



Supreme Court of Ohio


This video was developed as a resource for the courts to highlight communication barriers with deaf parties, sign language challenges and the role of interpreters in legal proceedings. The video is presented in three parts: the first part explores language acquisition and the impact of language policy towards the education of deaf people. The second part explores the variable nature of sign language as it is used in the deaf community. And third, the video discusses a number of ways that courts can ensure effective communication with deaf parties by using highly qualified and competent interpreters to allow equal access to justice. Specifically, the topics include:

Part I: Language Acquisition
· Understanding Deafness
· Oral... [ More ]
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00:00:00Hearing people may assume that a universal standards sign language is used by all deaf people, but nothing could be further from the truth. It may be surprising to learn that there are no less than 271 identified sign languages, dialects and other sign systems used in the world. Even in the United States there exists regional variation and dialectical differences among users of American Sign Language. There also exist a number of methods of signing that approximate the grammar and structure of English and have typically been used in the educational setting. In this section we will look at some of the more commonly encountered methods of communication used by deaf people in the United States, including speech reading and the use of speech, artificial sign systems used to represent English, note writing and American Sign Language. In order to read lips effectively you must already know English. You must have a concept of sound and know that sound is connected to the movement of the mouth and the intricate inner workings of the vocal mechanisms. Most of the sounds that make up English words are not represented on the lips but are made in the throat and back of the mouth. Many words look exactly alike on the lips. In fact, it has been said that only 30% of the words in English are distinguishable on the lips. Let's try a little test. Watch the following segment. (no sound) Speech reading or lipreading, as it is commonly called, is an art not a science, and - critically - it depends on a pre-existing fluency in English. If one became deaf after, say, 5 years of age, this child will already have a relationship with English and be in a better position to speak and to read lips. On the other hand, if deafness ensued at birth, the understanding of the English language will be absolutely limited. The reason why I went to an oral school was because of my grandmother. My grandmother felt very strongly about oralism, thought it was a requirement, so they told my parents, who were deaf, that you must have lipreading ability. So, we met a nice hearing lady; we went to church with this nice lady, who spoke very well, lip-read very well and said that signing would ruin speech development. So, for many years at home, we didn't sign; we just used lip reading. We tried to follow my grandmother's wishes. Later when I was older, we began to sign more when at home and friends would sign in secret. When in class or other public environments, we would only use lipreading and I didn't really learn sign language very well until I went to college at Gallaudet University, where I picked up language much better. Lipreading is also more or less effective depending on who is speaking and what they are doing. However, for most deaf people, lipreading and speech reading have been completely unsuccessful. What is important for courts to know is that deaf children educated under oral methods may have missed the prime age for learning sign language fluently. The deaf school told my parents that they weren't allowed to learn sign language. So, I relied on speech reading at home. I never had a problem understanding my parents' speech. It was very clear that I was able to understand them. However, I didn't really start chatting with my father and communicating with him until I was about 15 years old because that's when I was able to understand him as clearly as I was able to understand my mother. After I had graduated from college, it had been a couple years and one day my mother asked me if I was sorry she and my father had never learned sign language. Honestly I couldn't respond, I didn't know what to say, because I didn't know. I never had a problem communicating with them. But later on as I was doing some research on deaf culture, I realized how much I actually missed out on. I know my mother tried to fill me in on what was going on in my environment, on what my cousins and my aunts and my uncles and what everyone was saying, but I wasn't able to communicate with them and so that's when I realized how much I actually did miss out on. A Deaf child exposed to signing at a later age will most likely have difficulty attaining native-like fluency in sign language. For the interpreter the challenge lies in the ability to recognize the most effective form of communication. The interpreter will have to watch for the fluency of standardized sign language that the deaf person may possess if that person was primarily exposed to oral education in their early development. Since oral methods failed for most, and because ASL was not recognized as a language until the 70s, educators attempted to create visual systems of signing that approximated English. American Sign Language is its own naturally developed language, it has its own grammar and structure and rules for interaction-all of that. But there is also the ability for people who know English and know some signed vocabulary to use that vocabulary to represent portions of English. The reason I say portions of English, there are things in English-tone of voice, pausing, those features that will be inadequately represented and one of the features of signs is that they take longer to produce, so American Sign Language being a natural language naturally accommodates that by using internal modifications of signs, by including facial expression and body movements which add to the meaning of a sign and can occur simultaneously, so it's very much a layered language, where with English, it's much more linear. So, because it takes longer to do a certain sign, if you get rid of those ASL features, as happens when you sign in English word order, some of that message gets lost. Signing English is a way of using just one sign for the same definition of one word and you don't really use it...well, let me give you an example. Suppose that you want to say that the car engine is running. You want to be able to express the iconic meaning of the running engine and not express it in terms as if it's running on two legs, if you know what I mean. So, that's what's happening with signing exact English. The reader of those signs has to translate for themselves in their mind that the car is not actually running on two legs, but that the pistons are firing. But with American Sign Language it's more conceptually accurate. And with American Sign Language we have many signs for the different meanings of a single word in English. So, I don't use signing in English in my own house. What I do is I borrow a lot from English, but I use American Sign Language in English word order...that's what I mean by contact language. It should be clear that a deaf person who lacks proficiency with English vocabulary, grammar, and syntax will not be helped by the fact that it is presented to him in signs rather than in spoken words. It would be like seeing someone sign in French: If you do not know French, it doesn't matter that it is visual instead of auditory. Interpreters must have experience with and exposure to a wide range of deaf signers to be able to communicate effectively with the person. This is one reason, most ASL interpreters want to meet the deaf person and have a short conversation with them prior to interpreting. As the previous discussion should have made clear, English is typically not the first language for deaf children who face great obstacles to learning it early enough to become fluent. It should come as no surprise then that writing is typically ineffective as a means for communicating with deaf people. The structure of English verses the structure of ASL...I don't want to get too technical about that, so we'll just say, in general, the structure of English is a subject/verb/object language and it's pretty rigid. You can't move that around too much. In ASL, there are some subject/verb/object structures, but there are also object/subject/verb structures, so there is much greater flexibility there. Another essential difference is that English is linear so the sounds come in a particular order, the words come in a particular order, they can't occur at the same time. In ASL, that's not the case, things can happen at the same time. So, to ask a question like "Where was the gun found?", I need to know, in some ways, what kind of a gun it is, so I can indicate its size, in a particular location. Pronouns function differently. In English they're very clear, we know gender, male/female, we know whether it's he or she. In ASL, there's a single pronoun. It's the index finger and it doesn't necessarily tell us what the gender is. So, as an interpreter, that's one of the challenges that we face. The deaf person is referencing an individual, we may not know whether that individual is male or female and yet the deaf person, in fact, does know that. Writing is nothing more than a set of symbols to preserve a spoken method of the same language. One must already have a working knowledge of the language. The words, when read, must be decoded to fit the English words they represent. If one does not know English, they will not be able to fit the words they see on paper to the words of the language. There is a double translation process that must occur with reading. First the printed characters must be turned into sounds or speech which must then be turned into meaning. Let's try an example, take a look at the following sentence and tell me who is upset? You probably thought that Mary was upset, right? Well because of the structure of American Sign Language, a deaf person reading this sentence could easily believe that John was upset, and Mary was at fault. Because ASL is visual, its structure tends to follow a cause and effect grammatical order. It makes visual sense to, for example, sign 'house' before signing the color of the house. This presents serious implications for the courts when considering the number of English forms that must be filled out and understood. This also has implications for the use of transcribing systems, such as real time captioning, as an accommodation for deaf people in court. It has implications for interpreters since, if the interpreter can only sign in English word order, the deaf person will likely not understand. All of these methods must be looked at skeptically when discussing the majority of deaf people who lost their hearing before acquiring English. Linguistic research in the 1970s confirmed that ASL is a full and complete language distinct from English. ASL is used by approximately 75% of deaf adults in the U.S. and Canada. ASL has a complex rule based structure which uses far more intricate visual methods than simply signs formed by the hands. For example :complex rule based structure which uses far more intricate visual methods than simply signs formed by the hands.] * complex spatial relations around the body to convey units of meaning; * standardized facial grammatical rules for sentence structure; * for modifiers such as adverbs and adjectives, eye gaze for, among other things, directing the listener to the who is being referred to in a sentence; and, * a myriad of other standard linguistic devices which are shared by and understood by the community of ASL users. Let's take a look at a sentence in American Sign Language and the same sentence in one of the artificial sign systems. Consider the following :While you may have recognized the English signing because you could read the signer's lips, the ASL rendition was probably more difficult for you to figure out. ASL's structure makes visual sense, for example, you can't talk about the boy's reaction to the blood on the floor until after you sign the blood on the floor. ASL's grammatical structure makes use of the cause and effect or topic-comment structure. English's heavy dependence upon passive constructions make the ASL interpreter's job more complicated since passive constructions do not make sense in ASL. Many of the ways that ASL is used are misunderstood by non-signers as being gestural, primitive, or overly emotive. At the same time, English users, particularly attorneys, suggest that ASL cannot convey nuance and tone. They worry that deaf jurors will not be able to read the demeanor of a witness through an interpreter. Without question, any concept that can be discussed in English can be discussed in ASL depending on the fluency of the signer. Likewise, ASL can convey any mood, emotion or nuance presented by English. ASL has been able to create complex standardized grammatical rules given its origins as an "underground" language. ASL is typically not taught to deaf students either in schools for the deaf or in mainstream programs including deaf students, so it is amazing that the language has thrived and continues to thrive. Most deaf kids today have been placed into the mainstream of regular public schools. They may have one or two deaf classmates or they may be alone with only an interpreter. Sadly, the interpreters often are not very good as educational interpreting has traditionally been the least professionalized. The deaf child may then end up learning sign from an interpreter whose fluency in the language may be subpar. This has a profound effect on the deaf person's language development and the development of their real world knowledge. Language variation due a lack of ASL instruction and due to a lack of exposure to adult native language learners is extremely common. It has been said that a dozen deaf American college students may possess a dozen levels of proficiency in English, ASL, and the contact variety. There is even a significant population who are a-lingual who for whatever reason missed out on learning any language. It is this population that poses the greatest challenge to the court in finding effective communication means. When faced with semi-lingual litigants, special interpreting services which use a native deaf interpreter and a non-deaf interpreter working in tandem are the most effective accommodation in court. In the next section, we will look at the role of a Certified Deaf Interpreter and how this person, who is deaf, is able to decipher nonstandard sign language used by a-lingual deaf individuals.
Note : Transcripts are compiled from uncorrected captions
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Date : 05-19-2011     View : 3,247 Views     Size : 972.8 MB    
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