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Silent Tongue


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To the editors:

I'm surprised at you for making fun of the Illinois high schools for accepting American Sign Language for foreign language credit [City File, October 20].

Apparently your writer believes the common myths that 1) ASL isn't a language, and 2) is some kind of English. If you think ASL is merely pantomime, try watching a signer and see how much you understand. In fact ASL is a true language, as complex and sophisticated as any other, though with fascinating differences from speech. It would be instructive for your writer to attend a mathematics lecture, or a poetry presentation, or a religious service, conducted in Sign.

ASL is no Esperanto or artificial convention; it developed naturally, like any language. It has no particular relation to English. The best demonstration of this is the fact that it is quite different than British Sign. Oddly enough, ASL is most closely related to French Sign Language, due to the influence of Laurent Clerc, who came from Paris in 1817 to be the first teacher of the deaf in the United States.

ASL is not to be confused with Signed English, which is a word-for- word signed equivalent of English. Deaf people tend to find it tiring, because its grammar, like that of spoken languages, is linear, while that of ASL is primarily spatial.

An excellent introduction to Sign and to the deaf community is Oliver Sacks' recent Seeing Voices.

Reprovingly yours,

Mark Rosenfelder

Oak Park

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