The art of ASL

Examining American Sign Language visually, linguistically and artistically.

Growing up CODA

Posted on | August 13, 2010 | No Comments

Dr. Jim, a professor at Columbia College, discusses growing up hearing to two Deaf parents. The video is captioned. There is also a transcription below:

For me, language is language. By that I mean, if a person uses a language, that is their way of communicating different things. Language encompasses their special situation, and contains the special methods that specific language uses to express concepts. And it’s exactly the same for sign language users. They have their own way of expressing various concepts. When comparing the two, it really isn’t important to try to interpret from one to the other. Suppose the two of us were speaking in English, we would never worry about how to express that concept in ASL. And vice versa, if we were singing, we wouldn’t be thinking of how English works. But once you try to interpret between the two, now we have a problem.

If someone uses the English phrase “raining cats and dogs,” how should that be interpreted? You have to figure out its meaning. After understanding the meaning and conceptualizing what that phrase communicates, you know it has nothing to do with dogs or cats. We know it means a “heavy rain.” You possibly could use another translation or another word instead that seems to have a connection in ASL. An example might be the sign (2h)POUR, which can actually be used in ASL to mean “raining really hard”. But really that specific sign would never be used to show the concept of pouring water (such as into a glass); ASL has a different sign, POUR, to express that concept. You can see how sometimes it seems as though there’s an overlap, but it’s never a specific, perfect overlap.

My point is: Yes, ASL is produced differently than spoken languages. But for all the essential things that spoken languages can do (in English, French, German, Russian, Chinese, etc.), they utilize specific methods to do so. Some of these very same methods are paralleled in ASL, while some of them aren’t. No unique language is required to perfectly match other systems of language. Also like you said, sometimes ASL has one sign for a concept, but to translate it into another language may require a lot words to express. It’s the same way that someone can say a large word in English that will need a lengthy explanation when signed. It looks like “explaining,” when in actuality it’s because that word just doesn’t have a good translation in ASL.

I grew up as a child of Deaf adults (CODA). Again, like I said before, the experience is like a fish in a fishbowl. The fish never notices that it’s in water. It isn’t until you take the fish out of the fishbowl that it realizes it needs the water and doesn’t know where it is anymore. So I grew up never recognizing that I was strange or different. Then I went to school with the other kids, who were different from me. Then again, I guess we weren’t so different: we were all kids, we all had lunches that we brought from home, and we had a lot of similarities. But when they would come to my house or I would go to their house, I would notice. Their mothers didn’t sign. At my house, they would stand and stare nervously as my mother signed to them explaining that everything was alright. Some of the kids would freak out. They would ask, “so your mother is Deaf.. What’s your home like?” I would defensively explain how we were normal. “Well it’s lunchtime.. She cooks.. and I eat..” They assumed that my home life had to be so different, and that really stuck in my mind.

When you were growing up, your mother probably told you to turn the sound down. My mother never said that. My mother wanted to know what the words were when I was listening to music, and because I was a well-behaved child, I told her the truth. Some CODA’s dont tell their parents the truth about what the words mean, they’ll just gloss over those words. For example, my experience with music was different because I never rebelled against my parents. Most parents will say “That music is awful, turn it off, don’t listen to it!” But my parents never said that. I listened to a wide variety of music: classical to country music (I’m not a fan of anymore, but I’ve listened to it before). I could listen to anything I wanted. No one told me any of it was bad, except my friends, certainly not my parents. My friend’s parents would get upset about their music and I never had that experience in my home. The only differences in my home occurred when the ability to hear was involved. The phone created a big difference for my family in comparison to other families. The phone is different now for your age group than it was for my generation: the phone in my house was a tool for my parents to communicate, not a tool for me. So I hated the phone. Every time the phone would ring, I had to answer it within three rings regardless of where I was in the house. Remember we only had one phone, too. So if I heard the phone ring from the basement, I had to run to go pick it up in time only to find it was an automated message. And yet other times, after scrambling to answer it, it would be the doctor calling for my mother. So the phone was never meaningful to me, because it always concerned my parents. I would get so sick of that phone. There are a lot of things like that related to the CODA experience, but those are a few examples.

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