Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

[CC EN+DE] British and German Sign Language: Local and international sign language communication

Hello everyone, welcome to my talk entitled “Grenzenlose Möglichkeiten trotz der Sprachbarriere?” [Unlimited opportunity even with a language barrier?] [Screen goes off unexpectedly] Or is it? I didn’t touch anything, please fix. yeah so during this talk I will be discussing the limitation in communication between Deaf and hearing communities in Munich and I’ll be focusing on innovation in Deaf communities as a tool for communication so what are ‘Grenzen’ [limitations] in the context of
the German Deaf community, why is it that communication is impaired? Is it
firstly a lack of linguistic overlap: is it that Deaf people do not master the
spoken language and hearing people do not master sign language? Is it a
geographical matter, not that other people don’t exist in the same city but they
exist in the same spaces, or is it a societal issue? Is there a lack of Deaf
awareness, is there a lack of communication tools in place to integrate people? I’ll be focusing on two different types of communication: the communication between local hearing and Deaf communities, so people who exist in the same space, in
the same city but don’t necessarily talk to each other, and the communication
between international Deaf communities people who are not from the same
place, but who share a common thread, that being their Deafness. In the first case there is very poor
integration. Deaf people are often very poorly integrated into the hearing
world it’s very negative for their mental health, self esteem, productivity, Deaf people obviously find it very difficult to get jobs if no one is willing to hire them On the other hand international Deaf
communication is very good. Now we might think why is that? Is that because sign language is easy? Is it because it’s international, is that
why it’s easy for people to communicate with each other? I will argue that that’s
not the case, what is important here is that Deaf people have very particular skills
that hearing people do not have, and that’s what facilitates communication. So, to talk about sign languages, I’m aware that most people who do not know very much about sign languages so we’ve got a sort of brief overview here.
They’re not mutually intelligible with each other and they’re highly dialectal, so even within the same country, there are lots of different dialects that are used. They have their own full grammar, they’re not just a signed version of the spoken language, they are a completely different language there are some shared linguistic features
which we will go over that might explain why some sign languages are easier to
understand if you already know another sign language, but effectively, the thrust of my argument is that Deaf communities have skills that hearing communities do not, because they are forced to communicate in innovative ways, constantly. So, what is the Deaf community? Erm, the formation of Deaf life is shaped by hearing society so they are not [necessarily] born into a Deaf culture, but they have to seek it out for themselves
normally centered around Deaf schools and clubs. The statistic I have, which should rightfully horrify you, is that, although 90% of Deaf children have hearing parents, most hearing
parents never learn sign language. So, if the the children learn sign language, the
most natural native language for a Deaf person, they will not be able to communicate in a native way with their parents. And so, normally, a culture, you’re born into, you share with your family, erm, it’s not the case in this situation. Erm, integration [is] bilaterally stigmatized, so what that means is that
Deaf people often have a bias against learning the spoken language because
they are mistreated by hearing people, and it also works the other way round, in that hearing parents often won’t use sign language because it’s stigmatized, they
would discourage their children from learning sign language and instead of
the use of idea that we have of Deaf signers being bilingual, being able to
use the spoken language and signed language, we often end up with a semi-lingual ability, or even alingual, where people are denied a native language essentially because they have been failed in their education. Deaf people are exposed to other languages and are very
linguistically innovative in that they have to be used to language mixing. Often at school
they will be working with ‘written’ English and ‘signed’ sign language. In the case of German it would be that they learn to write German but they sign
German sign language and these are not the same language. There’s code-switching, there’s a lot of innovation and learning to make sense from little information, like
if you learn to lip read, you can actually get to a situation where you only have to guess about 50% of what’s being said, but that’s the best
case scenario, so they have to be very very good at inferring meaning. This
means that their communication style is very different. So, what are some of the features of sign languages that might make it easy to transfer skills?
There are many types of etymology of signs. People have this opinion
that it’s all just mime, but once you get past very basic physical tasks
how are you going to mime that? So I will mime, iconicity of shape, iconicity of movement, logical location, and then the influence of the spoken language. I’ve got some examples that
I’m going to show you in parallel with (if it works) British Sign Language and German Sign Language, so that you can see the shared… (mumbling) so if we go for some example words So, if we go for some example words, so we have an example of mime. So, we have it in BSL here, British Sign Language, and in German Sign Language here. If we think about the idea of the
linguistic economy it’s the idea that people do not use more effort that is
required to get meaning across, there is no more logical a way to convey the idea of tennis in a visual language that by visually representing tennis. This is mime, but it is also the sign for tennis. There is no reason that this would not be the sign for tennis: why make it more complex than it needs to be? But that’s only one aspect of sign language etymology. We also have, er… Table (Tisch), we can see here that we’ve
got the iconicity of shape so we’re not using the physical movement we’re using the shape of the object and that’s the etymology of the sign. Again, it’s a sort of onomatopoeia, you know you’re making your language more like the thing you are
trying to explain. Again, very logical. And it would be more illogical to not use this, really, in a language. So, here we have bicycle/ Fahrrad. Here we’ve got not describing the shape of the object but rather what the
human does with it so this is sort of the movement of the feet on the bicycle. That explains the object: these are all features that sign languages have in common, that, once you know them in one language, it’s quite easy to transfer. so here we have an interesting feature
which is a logical location of the sign So, on the left hand side we have the BSL ‘understand’, and it’s focused in this area here [right temple] which represents the brain so, just sort of here, with your dominant hand, and we have the same thing here in German with ‘verstehen’ but the difference that we
have is that because we have the ‘ver-’ at the beginning of the word, we have this ‘v’ handshape, which we’ll see again in a minute so the etymology of it is not only brain-location, something to do with thinking or the brain, but also ‘ver-’, so you’ve got the link with the spoken language. Er, we’ll see this in another example. So, here on the left side we’ve got publish, in BSL, obvious linked to ‘print’, it’s the logical visual representation of how you might print, whereas in the German [Sign Language], we’ve got this really interesting example of borrowed etymology, from the German word. So, we’ve got the sign ‘to open’ (öffnen), is this [hands start together and open out separately], this shape of opening, very logical. But here you can see that ‘veröffentlichen’ [to publish] is the prefix ‘ver-’ with the idea of ‘öffnen’, so, ‘v- open’, that’s the etymology of that word, meaning ‘to publish’. So you can see it’s very heavily related to the spoken language
but that doesn’t mean that the sign is the spoken language, it’s just a logical
response to being surrounded by spoken German – of course it’s going to
affect you affect your language. It does in any situation where there are many languages colliding, it always interacts. So I thought this was an interesting example of that! And we have another example of that, so, where am I… [mumbling] So, look carefully at this. ‘Kaufen’ [to buy], so what we’re doing there is the lip pattern is ‘kauf’ [buy], so we have the sign [dominant hand in a fist strikes thumb down against vertical palm of non-dominant hand] combined with ‘kauf’. Whereas if we look at the sign for ‘Strafe’ [punishment], which is here [mumbling], so, you’ll see that the sign is the exact same, and these are examples of what are called ‘minimal pairs’, so, that’s a linguistic term for, when two terms differ in only one small, minute but distinct way, in this case, the distinction is the lip pattern, so we
can see that the spoken language is really well integrated into the sign language,
because these aspects of the spoken language are the only things that
differentiate these words. So, the only way you’d know if they were saying ‘Strafe’ or ‘kaufen’ is by the lip pattern. OK, so, that’s, sort of, the list of things we’ve talked about here. The spoken language does influence the sign language, but that doesn’t mean the sign language is just a ‘bad rendering’ of the spoken language. Let’s go over to the
case study of Munich I was in a typical sign language class, about one hour, Deaf teacher making all of the efforts for communication in a room full of hearing people, all native Germans, all native to Munich including the teacher and what was really interesting to watch was how difficult the
communication was between these people who were living in the same city. It was
very very forced and artificial I’m just very difficult, and all of the effort was
being made by the teacher. Now I was there as the only foreigner, and because I
had Deaf awareness skills and spoke a different sign language actually I was
the only one that could communicate effectively with both groups of people,
which put me in a very strange situation if we compare that this with the second situation here at the local Deaf Stammtisch [pub social], so, the local social, there were people from many different countries, all degrees of hearing and the people who
were Deaf or deafened had experience with lip-reading or facilitating communication with people who they didn’t necessarily necessarily share a language with. And here, we talked all night. It was amazing – the communication was so easy even
though we did not necessarily share a language. Now, why would this be? In the
first situation, we were relying on the hearing community, where Deaf awareness is
basically zero, so we’re relying on them to facilitate communication, and it’s not
happening, so it has to be all from the Deaf side, whereas in the second situation, it’s just Deaf people all together who already have this Deaf awareness and who are already used to having to be innovative, trying different things,
they’re used to what features people might try to use to communicate and the
conversation just worked. So what I would say would be my conclusion is that there are still a lot of barriers to communication and the hearing society that we live in makes all of the effort
one-sided. Hearing people do not normally have any signing skills or any Deaf
awareness, and this isolates and alienates Deaf communities.

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