went to Orientation at my school yesterday. I was extremely cranky that they made transfer students attend, and even more cranky when I realized that I had to sit through two hours of information I already knew. At least the counselor leading it was entertaining. They gave us a bunch of cool stuff, too. One of those neat little booklets is labeled “Student Handbook and Calendar”. Inside, it includes a number of useful things, like a list of commonly misspelled words, the periodic table of elements, and a map of the human skeleton. It also has a little segment on ASL. I thought the things they chose to include were quite hilarious.
Of course the manual alphabet is there, and there is also useful information about eye contact, signing space, and time indicators. They also include the signs for “Mother” and “Father”, because I’m going to need those two signs desperately when trying to communicate with Deaf people… or not really. In truth, wouldn’t “Name” and “Nice to meet you” be better? I use those two every time I meet someone new, and it would be spreading politeness. Another thing I didn’t like was their information on classifiers is all wrong. They tell me that the classifier for “car” really means “3 cars”. I’d like to smack a y-handshape to my chin to them for that, because they’re definitely wrong.
I would also like to quote the “What is ASL” segment from the handbook. They try to be diplomatic and give a short history of ASL, but a history without Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is horribly ridden with holes at best, and this comes off as just really confusing:
Throughout history, the Deaf have been persecuted for being different. For centuries the Deaf struggled to form a visual language, and even then they were not always allowed to use it. This has changed in the recent past. In the 1800s, American schools were developed to allow the Deaf to pursue and education and participate in society. One important figure in this effort, Edward Gallaudet, became principal of a Washington, DC, school for the Deaf, now know as Gallaudet University. In the 1950s, William Stokoe was hired by Gallaudet University to teach English Literature, and by teaching the Deaf, he discovered and proved that ASL is its own language. In 1960 he published American Sign Language Structure, and in 1965 the Dictionary of American Sign Language. His work has been important in restoring and affirming the existence of Deaf Culture. Today, ASL is the fourth most commonly used language in the United States and Canada.
This paragraph makes it sound like Deaf people pulled ASL out of their nether regions, and suddenly everyone started using it. I would even go so far as to say it accidentally perpetuates the myths that ASL is universal and based on pantomime. Well… at least they’re trying, right? (sigh)
I may sound judgemental about this whole little ASL segment, but really I’m just laughing. I feel like this isn’t so bad that it’s insulting or damaging in some way, I just feel like their mistakes are so hopelessly silly. Ah the bastardizations that arise when people have little idea what they’re talking about…