Saw this on the Digg website. I like the article so much that I have to post here.
In what language do deaf people think? I think in English, because that’s what I speak. But since deaf people cannot hear, they can’t learn how to speak a language. Nevertheless, they must think in some language. Would they think in English if they use sign language and read English? How would they do that if they’ve never heard the words they are signing or reading pronounced? Or maybe they just see words in their head, instead of hearing themselves? –Cathy, Malvern, Pennsylvania
I’m not going to post the entire article but to highlight some paragraphs.
The profoundly, prelingually deaf can and do acquire language; it’s just gestural rather than verbal. The sign language most commonly used in the U.S. is American Sign Language, sometimes called Ameslan or just Sign. Those not conversant in Sign may suppose that it’s an invented form of communication like Esperanto or Morse code. It’s not. It’s an independent natural language, evolved by ordinary people and transmitted culturally from one generation to the next. It bears no relationship to English and in some ways is more similar to Chinese–a single highly inflected gesture can convey an entire word or phrase.
Wow, who would have thought that our ASL is more similar to Chinese than English!
Sign equips native users with the ability to manipulate symbols, grasp abstractions, and actively acquire and process knowledge–in short, to think, in the full human sense of the term. Nonetheless, “oralists” have long insisted that the best way to educate the deaf is to teach them spoken language, sometimes going so far as to suppress signing. Sacks and many deaf folk think this has been a disaster for deaf people.
It’s our turn to suppress the oralists!
The answer to your question is now obvious. In what language do the profoundly deaf think? Why, in Sign (or the local equivalent), assuming they were fortunate enough to have learned it in infancy. The hearing can have only a general idea what this is like–the gulf between spoken and visual language is far greater than that between, say, English and Russian.
Yet hearing students keep thinking it’s easier to learn ASL than Russian in their high school foreign language requirement. Just because ASL doesn’t have a written form doesn’t mean it’s easy to learn ASL!
I remember one time when I was working for the Nestle Beverage Company in Jacksonville, IL after my senior year in high school. I had two managers and they wanted to learn ASL. One manager was the head of the factory and with his job, he would travel to many countries to do business and meetings, so he knew quite some languages, so he thought it should be easy to learn ASL, being that it’s right on the tip of our fingers instead of our tongue. The other manager was a short friendly guy from Texas with a great sense of humor. He was responsible for internal operations and didn’t travel elsewhere as much as the other manager did. So, suffice to say that he didn’t know another language but English.
Everyday during lunch or office breaks, I’d say hi to both managers and try to strike up a conversation to help teach them some ASL. Ofc, first with ASL fingerspelling, then gradually moving on to learn different signs and build up a vocabulary base. Toward the end of my internship, which manager ends up learning the most? It was the Texan. And the other manager? he was still struggling with sign alphabets. The Texan learned so much that we were able to converse smoothly with a minimal stoppage for interpretations (which sign is that? that kind of question). His sense of humor probably helped as much, for we would always make jokes and laugh.
I learned from this experience as much as they learned ASL and it leads me to believe that people who rely on audio so much—I think that’s called an audiophile?—-that they’re unable to grasp the concept of the language being visual instead of audible. Like the article above, the gulf between ASL and English is greater than English and Russian.