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Honorifics in ASL:
Also see: Titles of address in ASL
Honorifics (in English) are titles of address such as:
Reverend (to a member of the clergy)
Your Honor (to a judge)
Those are English honorifics.
Does ASL use honorifics?
In general “no” however there are occasional exceptions.
When introducing a presenter at a workshop or conference (and the person has a doctorate) it is fairly common to spell “DR” and the persons’ first and last name – often followed by showing the person’s name sign. After the initial introduction it is common to just use the person’s name sign. Remember the above usage of the honorific is for introducing presenters to audiences and even then it is not as important as it is in the Hearing community.
The following is a paraphrased and slightly edited question from a member of the Lifeprint-ASLU group:
Is it okay to call you “Doctor Billy”? My Grandmother called my Dad that her whole life, it has always stuck with me as a term of endearment.
(name removed for privacy)
In a closed or private group setting, the culturally appropriate thing to do is just call me “Bill.”
Some Hearing people find comforting to add the “Dr.” – but that is a Hearing culture convention not a Deaf culture thing.
We actually have a rather amazing number of “Dr.’s” in the Lifeprint-ASLU Facebook group but you wouldn’t know it because they are all so cool and humble.
“Dr. Bill” is my “stage name” for external publicity and branding but it is not at all expected for “in group” member usage. The “Dr. Bill” label is useful for talking “about” me in external groups or public contexts (so people in the public will instantly know “which” Bill you are talking about) but the honorific is not at all needed when talking “to” me or about me “in group” or in the Deaf Community.
It’s somewhat mildly embarrassing to be called “Dr.” during “in group” conversations – especially if that group is oriented toward Deaf Culture – like this one.
Cultural note: Terms like “Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Mx.,” and so forth are not commonly used in ASL. The whole honorific thing is just not important in Deaf Culture.
As far as someone I don’t have a close relationship with calling me “Billy”— that is slightly awkward since it presumes a level of familiarity that doesn’t exist.
Adding the spelled out word “doctor” in front of "Billy" reaches the “mild eye-roll” level of “too much intimacy paired with too much fluff” for a group like this.
Also, for what it is worth, spelling out the word “doctor” in conventional English usage tends to imply someone is a medical doctor and thus the spelled out term "doctor" is not a good fit for me. My doctorate is in Deaf Studies & American Sign Language — not in medicine.
That does bring up an interesting aspect to skillfully handling honorifics and titles:
I have a friend who is a medical doctor. Let’s call him/her/them Alex Hernandez. Because we are friends I simply refer to Alex by Alex’s first name. However, suppose I were to visit the hospital where Alex works and we were standing in front of one of Alex’s patients. I would refer to Alex as Dr. Hernandez in front of the patient – for various cultural reasons—not the least of which would be as a kindness to the patient.
Most patients want to feel confident in and trust their doctor. That trust is important for a number of reasons (including but not limited to the placebo effect and the fact that most people like to feel they are getting their money’s worth in terms of advice and care). A yardstick (or indicator) of when a friend should call another friend “Dr.” is whether or not that person has put on a white lab coat and is in front of a paying or potentially paying client or patient.
So, again, in the Deaf world and/or in-group usage it is fine and actually preferred that you call me “Bill.” If you add “Dr.” in front of my name while “in group” no one is going to make a big deal of it (probably) but they will know you are not yet acculturated (to Deaf Culture).
Please know that this response is just me responding directly and openly to a question in your post.
I'm very glad to see you posting and asking questions in regard to the ASLU curriculum. Keep it up!
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