Elizabeth T. Yeh
languages of the world are more similar than written/spoken languages
of any language is to communicate with one another (mostly of the same
inclination), be common factor a culture, a nation, or even a perceived
the extreme cases of the written languages of English (American) and
Chinese. The English language is one that is based on phonetics derived from
an ordered set of alphabet that can be put together to “spell” and to
enunciate into words, which are the meaningful quantities of communication.
written language is constructed of pictorial characters that individually
and directly have relevant meanings. The written language has been unified,
simplified and altered over the centuries, but the spoken language depends
completely on the enunciation that varies from region to region of the
specific pictures. Consequently, the “dialects” of
almost foreign to other regions where people speak a different dialect,
until one writes the word (picture) down. That is the lineage upon which for
the many centuries the Chinese culture has existed.
sign language in Chinese as compared to the American Sign Language (ASL)?
Even though both sign languages have established the formal connection to
written language by defining a set of symbols for the fundamental units, the
alphabet in English and the alphabetized pronunciation of Chinese word
sounds, most of the sign language needed for daily communication are by
pictures and by actions, coupled by facial expressions. These features of
the sign language have much more commonality than their respective
just been learning the ASL during this month. The thing that struck me as
being of most interesting is the infrequent use of the alphabet. We are
taught how to sign words by using the alphabet, but rarely during the entire
course of 25 lessons and quizzes are words spelled out. Most of the words
are signed by actions and facial expressions that can be related to our
daily encounters, e.g., driving a car or a truck, asking about who, why,
where and when. Even the signings that pertain to nouns have certain
association to perceived values and qualities (e.g., father, mother, boy,
girl) that transcend the boundaries of the hearing and the deaf.
sign language in Chinese exhibits much similarity to ASL. Modern Chinese
Sign Language developed mostly in the late 1950’s, even though the first use
in a deaf school in China
was back in 1887, when it was created by an American missionary, C.R. Mills
and his wife. At present Chinese sign language (CSL) exists with variations
on the mainland China (Shanghai being most influential), in Taiwan (Chinese
National Association of the Deaf, R.O.C.), and in
Hong Kong ((HKSL). The goals for establishing sign languages are universal:
enhance the quality of life of the hearing disadvantaged by 1) eliminating
the obstruction between the deaf and the hearing people, assisting the
government in promulgating “the Law for the Protection of the Handicapped”,
2) reviewing and promoting the education of sign language and assisting the
deaf in removing their obstacles to communicate with people, and 3)
improving the deaf school, employment, medical care and supporting and
seeking for a living space free of obstruction.
Chinese is already a pictorial language, the connection between the written
language and that of the CSL becomes tighter than even in ASL. For example,
two index fingers pointing to each other, with the right index slightly
higher than the left forming an inverted “v”, means person. This is because
CSL has just signed the exact written Chinese character for person!
Variations of motion by one finger relative to the other signify people,
population and citizens, all variants of the person.
to the pictorial similarity, CSL and ASL resort to the use of constraints
and helpful gestures in similar manner. We consider two examples: First of
all, CSL (or HKSL), just like ASL, assumes verb agreement. Number agreement
implies the relation between the verbs and their arguments in terms of
number; in case of quantification, quantifiers always encode the additional
meaning to the verbs.
look into the situation of blinks and its association to intonational
phrases in HKSL. Sze finds that blinks occurring towards the end if or after
a sign possibly co-occur with syntactic boundaries of constituents do
correspond to an intonational phrase in the spoken language. Evidence exists
that blinks often occur with head turns and gaze changes, suggesting the
need to take these two factors into account in order not to over-estimate
the linguistic role of blinks in signing. Similar facial expressions exist
I suggest that it may be easier for the Chinese to become knowledgeable in
CSL than for an American to learn ASL. This could be because a Chinese
person already knows a language based on pictorial characters. Consequently,
the translation to the equally pictorial CSL is easier than what an American
has to deal with: translating the alphabetized words into pictures and
relating those to the sign language.
et al., CSLDS: Chinese Sign Language Dialog System, Proc. IEEE Intern.
Workshop on Analysis and Modeling of Faces and Gestures (AMFG’03),
Sign Language: A language of China, ISO 639-2:
Chinese Sign Language.
Yang, JH &
Fisher, SD, Expressing negation in Chinese Sign Language, Sign Language and
Linguistics, vol.5, pp. 167-202, 2002.
Reconsidering Number Agreement in
Hong Kong Sign Language.
Blinks and Intonational Phrases in
Hong Kong Sign Language.