Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

We need to stop using ASL!


Hammer. Saw. Screwdriver. What do these things have in common? They’re all tools. A hammer is used to drive a nail into wood. A saw helps you to cut wood into certain lengths. A screwdriver helps you put a screw into wood to connect pieces together. A tool is anything that helps you to do something, or to do it better. We all use tools. A pencil is a tool to help you record thoughts, ideas, and so on. A car is a tool to help you travel further and faster, and so you don’t have to walk there. Language — that’s a tool, too! Do most Hearing people think of language as a tool? No. But language is a tool, because it is something that is used to help us communicate with other people. Even though language is a tool, most Hearing people never think of it in that way. Why do they think that? Because it’s all internal — there is no physical manipulation of things like paper, pencil, screwdriver, etc. It’s all internal, but it is still a tool, nevertheless. You know, with tools, we tend to say the word “use”. We “use” a hammer, we “use” a screwdriver, we “drive” a car. We are USING all those things. But with language, we don’t tend to say “use language”. We tend to say we SPEAK a language. We speak English, we speak French, we speak German, and so on. But notice, with ASL and other signed languages, what do we tend to say? “I USE sign language”, “he USES sign language”. By saying we “use” sign language, signed languages become relegated to the subordinate status of “tool”, Instead of as a language. Hearing people never say they “use” speech. But we accept that, to say we “use” sign language. By allowing signed languages to be relegated to the status of “tool”, this means that Hearing people can look down on ASL and other natural signed languages and equate them with other tools, like SimCom (“Simultaneous Communication”), signed English, which are tools. But is ASL truly a tool like those? No, it’s a language. We need to stop accepting that phrase — “using sign language”. That just minimizes ASL. Instead, we should say “we SPEAK ASL”. We speak German Sign Language, etc. You’re probably wondering why the word “speak”. “To Speak” does not have to mean with the mouth. It can mean “to utter”, “to express one’s self”. Using “speak” puts ASL on an equal footing with spoken languages. Use? Enough with that!

12 Replies to “We need to stop using ASL!”

  • You've made a valid point there as it has been known for a long time from pre-1880 through all of Deaf native signers actually say 'speak' instead of 'use'. No, I don't have any proof of that but I speculated that it could have happened back then. Until the major changes from post-1880 that Oralism has spread across the globe and I firmly believe that AGBell and his cronies has spread all over the globe by using 'use' instead of 'speak' toward any sign language that are spoken by Deaf native and/or deaf students in the Deaf community and Deaf schools. I agreed that it is enough to use sign language as a tool that it's merely a language to begin with.

  • I am Deaf but hearing people do say "use your voice". Would voice be considered tool? But you made good vlog. Nothing will stop us from ASL!

  • Yes agreed! I have seen some arguments about using the word "speak". I knew it does not always mean that one coming from mouth, but just giving an expression by any means like hands and mouths. Some of them use "sign ASL", but that is fine with me either way. I could use both "speak" and "sign".

  • That was an eye catching title that got my attention and then your message is clear and valid about "using" ASL. So now anytime someone asks me if I use sign language or ASL, I would respond "No but I speak (sign) ASL". Good VLOG, man!

  • Great, John!  You SPEAK ASL, definitely!  I do too, kind of…. HA      Keep on doing vids!  You're a great speaker.
    V

  • It is a good point. However, some people would say they read and write a language that they learned, but are not able to speak it.

  • I agree it is speaking because you are saying what you have to say with language. Not all languages are audible, but are languages none the less.

  • 1:51 Your dog started barking… Made me jump a little, hah.
    This is a bit odd for me. I’m hearing, but I’ve learned quite a lot about Deaf culture and sign languages, and it never occurred to me that there’s a difference between spoken language and sign language in that context. It sounds natural to me to say e.g. ‘X uses spoken language because they can’t sign’; in contexts like those it’s obvious that language is a tool. Maybe I’m just not familiar enough with audism.

  • Thanks for this! I was wondering what a better way of saying this although honestly I've always said "I know Spanish, English and ASL". But I'm sure folks who don't know Deaf Culture aren't aware of this.

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