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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
darkriver American Sign Language and Music (32) RE: American Sign Language and Music 20 Dec 04

Hello all.

I'm almost completely deaf, although I became that way, so I learned English the easy way, by hearing it.

I was raised outside the deaf community and only turned to it after I learned sign language. I even went back and got my degree by attending Gallaudet.

If I may first correct some misconceptions or forestall them, ASL (and most other sign languages I know of) are two handed, not one handed. ASL uses a one-handed manual alphabet (whereas Britain uses a two-handed alphabet). Not all sign languages are the same (for example, ASL is much more like French SL than it is like British SL). When you begin to learn one, you at first see what is termed the 'iconicity' of the sign (some feature that may be reminiscent of a visual aspect of the concept being signed), but as you learn more, you realize that other signed languages use different (in some cases, radically different) signs for similar concepts. These are true languages, and although they are in fact visual and sometimes iconic, they are abstractions.

Another point to note is that traditional signed hymns, such as are mentioned above, are part of a more formal traditional form of sign that is not always like everyday signing, just as the language of the King James bible is unlike everyday English. There's a less hurried, more formal approach.

I have mixed feelings about sign language and music. Yes, it is beautiful, but part of the beauty for hearing people is the combination of sign and music. For deaf people who cannot hear (which is not a redundancy), and who have never heard, they are more likely to judge it strictly from a sign-language perspective. More often than not, these performances may be found wanting. A notable exception is the work of the (lamentably) late Lou Fant, who made his song translations works of art in sign language and not merely pretty arm waving to music.

There's a singer in the group Sweet Honey in the Rock (her name escapes me at the moment) who does beautiful signed singing. Her parents were deaf. She often signs while she sings during their concerts. Anyone remember her name?



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