Sign language is the natural language of Deaf people. A language that, like any other, owns and complies with all linguistic laws and is learned within the user community, which facilitates solving all the communicative and non-communicative needs of the human, social and cultural being. There are many excellent works published by different specialists on sign language that scientifically demonstrate these realities.
Sign language is a beautiful language that is also available to hearing people whenever they immerse themselves in the world of the Deaf. (Deaf-a, with a capital letter, is a convention used to designate people who identify with the language, customs, values, traditions, etc. of the Deaf community. Written in a lowercase letter refers to the medical-clinical perspective). Consequently, listeners who meet these conditions may also belong to that linguistic-cultural group. Oralized deaf people who do not share them and are integrated into the listening world do not belong to the Deaf community.
Origin of sign languages
The origin of Sign Language is very old and although it is generally used among people with hearing impairment, today more and more people join the study and practice of it. Its use is as old as that of oral languages. Sign languages are natural languages that have perfectly defined grammatical structures. In fact, there are people, even listeners, whose mother tongue is a sign language. The process of linguistic acquisition studied in children whose mother tongue is a sign language follows stages completely analogous to the acquisition of oral languages (babble, stage of a word, …). In addition, the processes of morphological analogy, ellipsis, phonetic changes or assimilation also occur in the same way in sign languages. Sign languages differ from each other, both in the lexicon (set of signs or gestural signs) and in grammar, as much as oral languages differ from each other. In sign languages the Manual or fingerprint alphabet , usually for proper or technical names, although it is only one of the many tools they have. In the past, the use of sign language in sign languages was budgetary evidence that they were only a poor or simplified version of oral languages, which is false. In general, sign languages are independent of oral languages and follow their own line of development. Finally, an area that has more than one oral language may have the same sign language, even though there are different oral languages. This is the case of Canada , the US , and Mexico, where the American Sign Language coexists with the English, Spanish, and French oral languages. Conversely, in an area where there is an oral language that can serve as a frank language, several sign languages can coexist, as is the case in Spain , where the Spanish Sign Language (LSE), the Catalan Signs Language ( LSC), and the Valencian Sign Language (LSCV).
MEETING BETWEEN ORAL LANGUAGE AND SIGN LANGUAGE
Generally, listeners manage to communicate more effectively with oralized deaf people, that is, first trained in oral language in oralist schools, who later enter the community of Gestural Deaf people, learn a basic “vocabulary” of signs that they then transmit to listeners who want to learn that language. Obviously, learning a vocabulary, however extensive, does not mean learning or mastering a language.
The sign language learning process is the same for all oralized deaf people: in their early years they attend oralist schools where they come into contact with the oral language, whose grammar each deaf individual manages to appropriate in a different degree. Commonly, in their youth many attend Deaf associations where they begin to learn a sign vocabulary. In a first stage, they express themselves with Bimodal, which consists of statements with the grammar of the oral at the same time that the learned signs are articulated.
This same process and the following, are lived by all listeners interested in learning sign language.
The deeper the knowledge of sign language, the stage of Pidgin is reached (the papiamento spoken in Curacao was originally a pidgin , so is Spanglish from the US-Mexico border) characterized by a speech in which at times pieces of Sign Language appear, at times pieces in oral language, at times body language, at times manual alphabet, at times articulation of words, in an arbitrary mixture depending on the skills of the speaker-signer until ultimately achieving, over time, sometimes years, mastery of Sign Language. This process occurs unconsciously. The most common is finding oralized deaf and interpreters who develop in the world of the Deaf with the pidgin and most teachers are in the bimodal stage, as are many interpreters who are unaware of this situation.
The pidgin is not a language, but an arbitrary mixture of elements of several semantic systems, of several linguistic codes. Nor is the bimodal, which is a mixture of oral language, usually poorly expressed, with added signs to help visualize the words.
This continuous process is imperceptible to the parties involved, and from the beginning, it leaves the impression that Sign Language is mastered due to the agile communication achieved with and between the oralized deaf, who are its users. The gestural Deaf, do not understand the messages sent through these modalities because they do not know, or do not master the grammar of the oral, and are confused to recognize the signs but not the syntax, so they fail to decode the message correctly.
Continuum in Sign Language Learning
As a result of these individual and arbitrary mixtures that use both Deaf classroom aides and teachers trained by them, Deaf children exposed to them are prevented from acquiring the language code necessary to access personal relationships and knowledge of the world, and by that reason, they grow retarded in their psycho-affective, cognitive and socio-cultural development, a situation that marginalizes them and isolates them from the rest of society causing them serious emotional and behavioral damage.
If we start from the eighties, the era in which the “Bilingual Education for the Deaf” was implemented, a philosophy that is very well supported and logical but that, due to its improvisation, by not properly preparing those who would put it into practice, has resulted in several generations of deaf children who have not been able to access literacy or the common linguistic code necessary to their human development and their relationships with the environment.
In the same way as with the oral language, there is not necessarily a sign language for each country, and even less is a universal language, but there are several different sign languages in the world, located regionally. There are at least fifty languages practically intelligible with each other, and numerous dialects, some of which coexist within the same city.
Phonology of sign languages
The set of minimum symbolic units or phonemes of most sign languages can be analyzed in terms of seven basic training parameters:
- Setting. Shape that the hand acquires when making a sign.
- Orientation of the hand: palm up, down, towards the signer.
- Place of articulation Place of the body where the sign is made: mouth, forehead, chest, shoulder.
- Movement. Movement of the hands when making a sign: rotating, straight, reciprocating, broken.
- Contact point. Part of the dominant hand (right if you are right-handed, left if you are left-handed) that touches another part of the body: fingertips, palm of the hand, back of the fingers.
- Flat. It is where the sign is made, according to the distance that separates it from the body, with Plane 1 being in contact with the body, and Plane 4 being the furthest place (arms stretched forward).
- Non-manual component It is the information that is transmitted through the body: facial expression, spoken components and oral components, trunk and shoulder movements. (As an example; when expressing future we lean slightly forward, and when expressing past, backward).
This parallels the 5 or 6 parameters generally necessary to analyze the phonology of oral languages, among which we find:
- Current mechanism, which indicates the mechanism of air flow generation: pulmonary, ejection, injection, …
- Articulation mode, which divides sounds into occlusive, fricative, approximate or vowel sounds.
- Point of articulation, depending on the two parts of the vocal tract that are closest at the time of articulation.
- Coarticulation, when a sound presents several phases in the mode or at the point of articulation along its articulation.
Many sign languages tend to be analytical languages with little morphology. This, however, may be more a consequence of their historical origin than a necessary or preferred feature of sign languages. In most sign languages, for example, morphological processes are more used in word formation processes: derivation and composition and are evident in the structure of much of the lexicon.
The manual alphabet
Instructed deaf people (who can read and write) from almost everyone use a group of signs to represent the letters of the alphabet with which the country’s oral language is written. This is what is called manual alphabet or fingerprint alphabet. In the case of Spanish-speaking countries, where the Latin alphabet is used , deaf people use the same manual alphabet, common to all countries (with some minor variations in the form of some letters). In England a different, bimanual manual alphabet is used. In countries that use alphabets other than Latin (Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic alphabets, etc.) there are other forms of representation among deaf people.