Tahlequah Daily Press

February 26, 2013

Just give us a sign

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — In a world filled with several forms of instant communication, the reader or listener must focus to discern the intended message.

For the hearing impaired, some of these same message cues serve as context clues to the message or topic idea. But when the deaf converse with others who have the inability to hear, use of American Sign Language is beneficial.

American Sign Language, or ASL, is the form of communication used by deaf communities in the United States and English-speaking regions of Canada.

There are many people, though, who work with someone who is hearing impaired and speaks English, but does not know ASL. To help such people share a conversation, Pidgin Sign English, or PSE, can be a boon. PSE is a combination of elements of ASL and English.

Julie Poor teaches a six-week course on PSE during the fall at the Tahlequah Public Library, and recently held a refresher class for participants who are learning to the basics of sign language.

“What I teach specifically is called pidgin signing. It’s the gap language between American Sign Language and spoken English,” she said. “Essentially, in sign language, they have a different verb, subject, noun order than we do. They leave out nonessential words like ‘and’ and ‘the’. What pidgin signing does is it says, ‘I’m not deaf and I’m used to using grammatically correct English, but you are deaf and you don’t.’ So it takes ASL word signs and puts them in English word order. The best way to explain it is instead of saying in English, ‘he went to the store,’ in pidgin sign you would say, ‘he go store past.’ It’s the layperson’s sign language.”

According to LifePrint.com, PSE doesn’t have one determined set of rules. The forms used by deaf people tend to include more of the verb directionality structures found in the grammar of ASL, and less use of grammatical forms like definite and indefinite articles in English.

ASL is a distinct language, and like many other languages, it does not easily translate to English. There is no equivalent for many specific words, and the syntax is vastly differently.

Poor said the goal of Friday’s refresher class was to practice what was taught in the six-week course.

“I usually try to do an activity that helps them keep it in their brains. That [activity] will be going over different colors,” she said. “It will be just basic information. Other times, we’ll go over how to form a sentence or how to greet someone.”

Class participant Debbie Berry has always had an interest in learning to sign.

“It’s just something that’s always appealed to me. It’s kind of pretty to watch,” she said. “And I’ve always wondered what they were saying and exactly how they get their points across. I’ve always wanted to know the basics, at least.”

Donna Shaw is also learning PSE, and she joined the class to not only learn another language, but to find a way to protect young ears from adult conversation.


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