The difference between ASL and SEE

There has been quite a bit of linguistic debate between ASL and SEE. Many people do not understand some of the fundamental differences nor do they understand the histories of these two different communication methods. Both ASL and SEE are valid communication choices, there is nothing wrong with choosing one over the other, yet parents and students alike need to understand the differences between them so they can make the appropriate choice for themselves and or their families. This blog post will go over just a few of those differences.

Before I begin explaining the differences, let me dispel one large myth about sign language in general, its universalism. Sign languages are not universal. While all sign languages have some things in common they differ greatly across the world. The same can be said about spoken languages; they share some things, and differ in many others. The only thing that is universal between sign languages is the use of the hands and facial expressions to get concepts across, just as the only thing that is universal in spoken language is the use of voice and tones to get concepts understood. even in countries who share the same base language, their sign languages will differ greatly. Take the United States and Britain. They both are predominately English speaking and use the same alphabet, but ASL and BSL (British Sign Language) are vastly different, even to the point of using different signs for their alphabet.

 

ASL Alphabet

BSL alphabet

 

Signing Exact English (SEE-II) is a manually coded English. There have been multiple different forms of SEE, the first of which was actually called Seeing Essential English (SEE-I). This is the form that generally isn’t used any longer, and instead of a single sign for butterfly, a person would sign butter and fly. SEE-I was created by David Anthony, who is a British deaf man who was born to deaf Parents. His first language is British Sign Language. He created SEE-I, which is also known as Morphemic Sign System, to attempt to solve an issue of poor English skills among deaf children, who were learning English as a Second Language. When Anthony created SEE-I he never intended it to be used as every day communication, he intended it to be used purely for Literacy instruction, as he had told me in a conversation. SEE-I seen as incomplete and inadequate, so others changed it, creating SEE-II. This manually coded English system incorporates ASL signs, English structure and some of its own. SEE-II (Commonly just referred to as SEE) uses word endings, such as –er, -ed, and -ing. It signs each and every word that would be spoken or written. Words such as Van, Car and Truck are signed differently in SEE-II using an initialized system, as are Beautiful and pretty, which in ASL are the same sign. Due to SEE being a manual system of English, it is also quite literal. In English, someone would say “Beat around the Bush”, and in SEE, this would be signed. If a person looks at it conceptually, they would see someone hitting something around a bush, and it could make very little sense to them.

American Sign Language is a distinct language on its own. It has its own complex grammar structure, idioms and phrases. It is separate and distinct from English. Many people to this day still see ASL as purely pointing this couldn’t be further from the truth. Other people see ASL as a manually coded English, this also is false. ASL doesn’t share a grammatical structure with English, the grammar used to interpret this post in ASL vs the grammar used to write this in English would be different, just as if I were to translate this post into Spanish. (in another post I will explain the difference between interpretation and translation, as these are commonly confused as well). ASL is also a naturally developing language, and a living language. What I mean by this is it is not a code that was developed, but was grown from the use by deaf individuals. ASL began its development when Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet brought OSF (French Sign Language) to the states and started teaching using it. In this way, you can say ASL is got its origins from French Sign Language, (and still currently share over fifty percent of their signs) just as English is derived from other languages. Since this time, it has grown, changed and become its own distinct language. ASL uses a time, topic, comment grammar structure, whereas English uses as subject verb object structure. Just as in English there isn’t a strict rule as to how the words must be placed, the same goes for ASL. It is also important to note, ASL doesn’t use variations of “to be” like English does, there are no signs for words such as: am, is, are, or were. Verbs are also different in ASL, there is no runnING, or teachING but rather it depends on the sign as to how you signify it is a verb, the general rule is to perform the sign twice, but there are always exceptions to the rules.

While neither of these are the one way to go when instilling language in a deaf child, the important thing is to get language. There are other manually coded systems of English, such as Cued Speech. Each of these communication strategies (or for lack of a better word, languages) have their place and appropriateness. No one is better than the other, but the distinctions are important. It is important to note, that SEE-I and SEE-II are not languages themselves, but are manual systems of English. ASL on the other hand is a language on its own. There are other systems, such as CASE (Conceptually Accurate Signed English) that attempt to combine the two even further.

For more information, you can look here (http://www.signingsavvy.com/blog/45/The+difference+between+ASL+and+English+signs) Here (http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/evolutionofsignlanguage.htm) here (http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/signedenglish.htm) and many other places.

Adventure at the Dentists

The same day I had my left CI activate, I also made a visit to… the dentist. If there is one thing I’m scared of, its dentists. I had called ahead a week and scheduled the appointment, informed them I would need an ASL interpreter, and was told that would be no problem. Making the call was hard for me, and I was imagining how difficult it would be actually going. With my CI’s, although I can hear and understand fairly well, when I am nervous, upset, scared, hurt or otherwise indisposed, my comprehension goes from good to absolutely pitiful. For this reason I needed and wanted an ASL interpreter.

 

I was able to muster the courage to go to the dentist, it was only because a friend of mine was going with me. When I arrived, signed in, I was then informed, there would be no ASL interpreter for the first visit… because… “there was no communication” in that first visit. Not only was I scared, but now… I was livid. The one thing I was counting on to make this visit at least a little bearable was that I was finally going to be able to understand what was said, 100%… That didn’t happen. The dentist was a jerk, he talked down to me like I was a child, I only understood about 30-50% of what was said… and that was only because my friend was helping me. I decided to show him why an ASL interpreter was necessary, I turned my voice off, and started just signing, he looked petrified. He told me that they didn’t schedule interpreters for this appointment because about 50% of them didn’t happen. I informed him of other options than a live interpreter for appointments where they don’t know if it is going to happen, such as VRI from companies like Purple or ZVRS. Then I got xrays that hurt like heck and scheduled a second appointment to review. I was mad, and I was very close to not going back.

 

When I talked with my partner, who had visited this office, I was told, I saw the wrong doctor… so I called and changed the appointment to the right dentist, and hoped for the best. I told them I would REQUIRE an ASL interpreter, and informed them of the law.

 

Well, Monday I went, and… there WAS an interpreter… I have to say being able to take my Cis off, and not having to hear the drill like I did before my hearing took a complete nose dive, and not wearing my hearing aids during the appointment to attempt to understand, but being able to SEE what was said… made the appointment much much less evil. I have to go back and have a bit more done, but I finally got my front tooth fixed I damaged when I was young, it seems it was damaged to the point where it needed a root canal.

 

I have to say… it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. The best thing was being able to understand everything, and STILL be in complete silence. When I didn’t have to use my HA’s to attempt to understand what was being said while he was in my mouth, but instead could take my CI’s off and see everything that is being said, I felt much more comfortable.

 

I have another appointment next Thursday… and thankfully with this dentist at Comfort Dental, Dr. Abe Miller, was nothing like this… which is how I picture all dentists.

 

A world of black and white or a world of color?

I saw a short film a while back, from Australia where a now adult explained living before and after she received a CI, she explained it as before she was living in a black and white world, and now she had colors… This is how I feel… but about ASL, not my CI.

Before I learned ASL and was a part of the Deaf community, it felt as if I were living in an old foreign film, where nothing was clear, where the world around me was muffled, where I was alone, without friends, without true understanding. I was able to grasp a word here and there, I was able to understand some simple things, but never with fluency, never with the ability to really grasp it.

When I learned ASL, became a part of my Deaf community, my world suddenly had color, had vibrancy, had understanding, free flowing comprehension, exchanges of ideas, flow. It became a masterpiece, it became reality, and what a beautiful reality it was. It was something I had always dreamed of, no more struggling to understand, no more lip-reading people who had accents, no more having to ask professors and teachers to stop walking around the room and stand in one place, to pick a place, any place and keep that place for the semester, to not talk while writing on the board, and god forbid… have a teacher with a mustache… or BAD teeth… no, I would sit comfortably, without having to struggle, and watch my interpreters. I could have free flowing conversations with my professors, without having to ask them to repeat time and time again. I could ask them questions without wondering if I was pronouncing a word correctly, of if they would even understand what I was saying. I was free to soak in the message, without having to worry that if I looked away for just a second to make a note of something to remember or look up later I would be lost. I was finally in a place I was free to be me. I was finally surrounded by the world, the community, the freedom, the ability I had been searching for.

My CI didn’t give me that eye opening experience that learning ASL did, my CI didn’t allow me to freely understand no matter the circumstance, my CI didn’t give me the ability to understand the first time, and not just smile and nod. My CI gave me other things. If the world before ASL was an old black and white foreign film, the life after ASL was a modern day High Def Open Captioned movie. Life after my CI… when only using my CI, is like watching TV with Rabbit ears.

Some days, some circumstances, it’s good. The picture is mostly clear, the captions come a little late, but it isn’t that crisp picture of HD. Other days, you struggle to get reception, wondering how you will watch the show when the only time you can get a decent picture is if you are holding the ears, but the moment you let go… the quality goes away. I can understand if it is quiet, if there isn’t noise in the background, if I am expecting speech. I can understand best if I know the voice, if it’s not in a whisper, but also not yelling, crying, too slow, too fast, too old, too young, too foreign, too high, too low or anything else “funny”. Add any of those circumstances, and you are back to trying to adjust those rabbit ears, trying to get the right signal, trying to get clarity.

I live in a colorful world, one where ASL provides me color, provides me access, provides me clarity, and sometimes I have to adjust my ears, my rabbit ears so the hearing world can come in a little more clear… and yet other times, I ignore the hearing world and live in my world of color!! The one place I will NEVER go back to is that old foreign film, of black and white, of pain and fear.