Video in ASL: Gallaudet university, city of American Sign Language and Deaf culture
Check out today's video, entirely in American Sign Language. There is no sound at all in the video, but (as always) you can click “CC” to read captions of everything in English, if you don't understand ASL.
Last year I spent a month in Austin (TX) (excluding time spent at the SxSW festival, I had about two intensive weeks learning this language) and had learned enough to make a multilingual music video in ASL, but not enough to record a video interacting with someone.
This time (as part of my summer mission to improve each of my languages) I made it a major focus to improve my ASL to a level where I could interview people to share Deaf culture and more about ASL and how it works with the world.
So, I got some Skype based lessons in June to get back up to the level I was before, and then I went to the best place in the world to immerse in ASL and really use it; Gallaudet University!
One of my blog readers, Julianna Smith (interviewed in the video and working to become an interpreter) suggested to me that I should pay a visit to Washington D.C. while in the states, so that I could see one of the most active communities of signers in the world.
Even though I went in the summer, when the university was relatively empty, I actually got to see much more than what I had initially expected! In fact, I managed to spend two entire days of my time in the city doing absolutely everything in American Sign Language! The first (of three) days I was there, I did use some English with a hearing professor, but after that all my interactions with other people were entirely in ASL.
I arrived in the university in the morning and asked for the name of the building I was going to meet someone in ASL, we chatted, and then went for lunch. Those working at the restaurant all understand ASL, so I ordered a pizza, a salad and a soda, in the university's language. I also went to the gift/book shop and bought a few items and was told the price in ASL.
In the video you can even see clips of a show put on by a children's summer camp, which is given in ASL. This is a real language in every sense of the word, and the community at Gallaudet really emphasise this!
Sharing ASL with the hearing
Julianna brought up some points I had wanted the hearing to be aware of, such as the fact that ASL is not signed English, but a unique language in itself with its own grammar and word order etc., and that there is not one international commonly used sign language (there is an attempt with “Gestuno”, but local sign languages are the only ones truly used on a day to day basis), but that it developed separately in various places.
People are also surprised to find out that British Sign Language is NOT mutually intelligible with American Sign Language. In fact, ASL was inspired greatly by French Sign Language, so there is mutual intelligibility there. (Irish Sign Language was also inspired by French Sign Language)
I wrote a detailed summary of American Sign Language after my first experience learning some of it, in this blog post.
As I said in the video, I prefer ASL to English – I think it's more efficient in expressing certain concepts and for telling stories. Going back to English after signing seems so bland and expression-less in comparison. For me it's a window to communicate with a very different community within America (and some other places), and very much worth learning.
I still have plenty left to learn – you can see me hesitate and get confused at points in the video, although I at least had enough to interview them as I did. I'm glad to have pushed my level up a little bit, and will indeed get back into it some day!