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What you don’t know about Sign Language

Sign language is universal; it is the only language that is completely performed.  Patterns in fiction can be observed in real world examples, and the struggle sign language has endured is a prime case of that.

“When I was born deaf, my parents wanted me to learn orally, but at that time they were involved in the deaf community, so I went to the deaf club and I kept picking up sign language, so they permitted me to learn sign language when I was about 2 years old,” said Laura Hill, a professor at Tyler Junior College.  

The deaf formally received teaching in the 18th century, however it was more driven toward integration rather than acceptance. The theory behind this thought process is oralism, which seeks to teach the deaf through lip reading and spoken language. The year was 1867 and the Clark School for the Deaf opened in Massachusetts, this facility believed it was easier to train the deaf orally through mimicking mouth shapes and breathing patterns instead of through sign language.   Focused mainly on integrating the deaf into the hearing community, the Oralist side of the spectrum does not allow any form of sign language in the classroom.  

“American Sign Language is a foreign language,” said Professor McKinzie, Department Chair – Sign Language Interpreting, explaining the difference between ASL and the Enlgish language being signed.  “The true language for the deaf is ASL.”

Like everything, there is always another side to the story, the Manualism viewpoint. Manualism practices education for the deaf through the use of sign language as the primary means of communication. William Stokoe, an English professor from Gallaudet University, was the first major lobbyist for the Manualistic thought process.  In 1955, he observed signing being done in his classroom and instantly became fascinated.  He published the book “Seeing Language in Sign” which goes into depth on the reasons why ASL is a legitimate language.   

He published the book “Seeing Language in Sign” which goes into depth on the reasons why ASL is a legitimate language.  

“‘Seeing Language in Sign’ traces the process that Stokoe followed to prove scientifically and unequivocally that American Sign Language (ASL) meets the full criteria of linguistics phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and use of language to be classified a fully developed language,” according to gallaudet.edu.

Lite ideals of Freudian theory can be to film, comics, literature, and in-turn to real world examples. Things like pens and guns would be phallic symbols, better described as performative; while cameras and paper would be yannic or representational. Why are photographers always portrayed as feminine or a feminized man?  Why does anyone with a gun suddenly appear much more masculine? Why after most shootings do they find the shooters have suffered from extensive sexual frustrations?

This thought process could be applied to the “Oralist vs. Manualist” debate.  The oralist thought process is very representational in its’ core, while the manualist way of doing things is without a doubt extremely performative.  Signing must be performed, and it seems in this case the deaf’s opinion was finally heard. 


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