Friday, October 21, 2011

WHAT THE F*** DO YOU KNOW?!?!?: Should ASL Profanity Be Openly Taught?

I recently went online and decided to look up any new Deaf- and ASL-related books available on Amazon. One of them caught my eye. It was a book on the “dirty words” in Sign Language. It made me consider whether it was appropriate to teach the profanity of ASL to new students or not.

I’ve heard the debate. When James Woodward came out with his two books, “Signs of Drug Use” and “Signs of Sexual Behavior,” there was quite a bit of an uproar regarding whether that inside knowledge should be thrust out there for anyone to learn. The simple fact is that many people just want to know the profanity. They think it’s funny. Now I can call my teacher an A-hole without him knowing, or whatever. Many Deaf people felt that ASL, being their language, shouldn’t be something just given out, but rather knowledge earned.

But there is a need out there for those who are serious about learning the language…especially interpreters-in-training. They do need to know that information. How can you possibly interpret in a courtroom if you don’t know the signs for sexually-oriented concepts? The trouble lies with who has control of and access to this information.

I’ve seen people say that if a person is serious about learning ASL, then they should find a Deaf friend and ask them how to do the mature words. OK. Good idea…if it’s possible. Some people are not sure how to bring it up and some people don’t know a Deaf person well enough to ask. Although an interpreter has to overcome a lot of feelings of embarrassment (especially working with culturally Deaf people who are known for their candidness and bite), it doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to say, “So, Jared, can you please tell me in what contexts I would use this sign for F--k and which times this sign is better?” May seem easy if that kind of thing comes naturally to you, but most of the time it doesn’t.

The book in question seems to have gotten some pretty good reviews—even from Deaf individuals. So, I’m inclined to think it isn’t as controversial over 30 years after James Woodward had to deal with the uproar. I took a look inside and the pictures are poor enough that I feel you would need to already have a working knowledge of the book in order to understand the descriptions anyway. Nevertheless, I ordered it. It’s titled, "Dirty Sign Language: Everyday Slangfrom "What's Up?" to "F*%# Off!" I’ll check it out and see what my side is on this debate. In the meantime, what do you feel about teaching sign language students the “dirty” words?

Sunday, October 9, 2011


As a teacher of ASL, I've been told many reasons (or excuses) for why a person cannot learn to sign. Sure, there's the usual, "no time," or, "too old," both of which is a matter of opinion, but very often people will tell me they can't learn to sign because of a disability they deal with on a daily basis.

I don't buy it though. Yes, there are definitely exceptions to the rule, but, in general, I don't think simply having a "disability" excludes a person from the world of ASL.

In fact, I've worked with students with various types of circumstances, including dystonia, dysphonia, MS, MD, autism, Asperger's Syndrome, apraxia, and mental retardation, and have yet to have a case where I advised them that contining to learn was useless.

Anyone can learn to sign if they truly want to. Sure, it may take a little extra time and effort, but it'll happen. So, don't let a barrier in your life cause you to miss out on this language. You can do it!!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


The other night, I was laying bed, watching the auditions for the new show, “The X Factor,” when something hit me. It was my teenaged daughter, Mollie, trying to get my attention with a sock. Apparently, I was so engrossed in the show that I didn’t notice her standing in the corner, jumping up and down and waving her arms. She’d been doing this for the past five minutes, but, hey, I was watching an interesting segment!

See, there was a young man on the show. He was the only “normal-sized” member of an all-dwarf family (those were the terms the family used). It really melted my heart, because what I observed was the ease the family had with each other. This guy (who, if I remember right, was still a teenager) thought nothing of getting down on his knees for a big mama hug or looking down to have a totally natural conversation with his father. Am I starting to sound ignorant yet? I am ignorant of that culture and life. But really! It was the naturalness that struck me (aside from the dirty, balled-up sock I had to peel out of my hair). He never knew any different, so there was no judgment of the things he had to do with the members of his family.

That made me think about my own kids. Youngsters, ages 11, 12 and 14, who signed before they ever spoke and think nothing of living in both the Deaf and Hearing cultures. Standing in the room, jumping up and down, pelting their mother with slimy, old pieces of clothing, is never given a second thought. It just is what it is. It’s a fact of life around here. Sign Language is no more embarrassing for them than back-flips are to clowns. OK. That made no sense. I’m not in the mood to Google other comparisons at the moment, so just go with it.

Seriously though. I love the fact that the kids aren’t embarrassed about the differences in our family. Even my teenager likes to hang out with my Deaf friends, “because they’re funny and have funny faces.” Hmmm. OK, maybe that one isn’t the greatest example. She just likes the animation of ASL, but those are the words this genius chose to use, so I typed them.

Stomping on floors, “speaking” through windows, using facial grammar, heck, even jumping up and down in the corner of the room for five minutes, are natural expressions of needing to communicate. I like that. I like that I’m not seen by them as weird or embarrassing. Well, yes, I am, but it has nothing to do with my deafness and that’s my point. All moms are weird and embarrassing to their kids at some point. But I’m not more so. And that makes me happy. Mom is Deaf. We need to do this and that to have a full and rich relationship with her. It just is what it is. Now, someone come over here and do my laundry, so I don’t have to deal with dirty socks in my hair anymore.