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"I'm not lazy. I'm efficient."
The phrases “lazy” and “mumbling” have often been used by students (and many Deaf) to refer to the “efficient signing” done by skilled, native Deaf signers.
I encourage you to reflect on whether or not the terms “lazy” and/or "mumbling" contain a negative bias possibly based on learner frustration.
If a Chinese person pronounced a word normally in Chinese but it was hard for you to understand it due to a lack of receptive fluency in Chinese and you referred to that Chinese person as lazy or mumbling -- how do you think that person would feel? More proud or less proud? Better or worse?
If you were teaching English and said a word in English and an "English as a second language" (ESL) student became frustrated and accused you of being lazy or mumbling -- how would you feel?
Skilled Deaf signers do not think of ourselves as "mumblers." Being referred to as “mumbling” (and thus “a mumbler”) is not something to which any of us aspire.
My point: The movement reductions, and shape changes or omissions that occur in lexicalized fingerspelling or rapid signing is a positive feature that allows for efficient / effective visual gestural communication between those skilled enough to make use of it. It is a form of streamlining.
Consider two different cars:
1. A boxy Prius (or some other box shaped car)
2. A sleek Tesla (or a Corvette or similar)
We do not look at the rounding and smoothness of the Tesla as a negative. We wouldn’t think “That Tesla is mumbling down the road. It is being lazy by not fighting all that wind resistance like the Prius is. That Tesla should work harder at taking wider turns and shift from gear to gear more clearly.”
Instead we respect the Tesla for its ability to “fluently” move down the road with less air friction.
Just as you wouldn't call a sports car "lazy" for zipping down the road -- you should not call native-like signing "lazy."
I'm not trying to shame anyone who has in the past mislabeled efficient signing as lazy. I'm just trying to evoke a paradigm shift wherein myself and other Deaf are able to feel proud of and comfortable with our language. Such shifts in attitude often start from small changes in word choices.
Please don’t think I’m pointing at any one person. In years past (the old days) I recall having used the term “lazy” signing. I wasn't using it as an insult or a way to criticize myself or my other Deaf. That was just the way we described "efficient signing" back then. I’ve probably still got that phrase “lazy signing” buried somewhere on my website or in an article somewhere.
Many ASL teachers still use the term “lazy” signing -- and mean absolutely no harm by it. So don't automatically assume they are trying to be insulting. (No more so than I was back when I used to use that phrase.)
The past is past. Now, in the present we can simply make the effort to recoginze and move beyond dysconsciousness language bias. We can set a goal to consciously choose positive or at least neutral / more accurate labels.
Most ASL as a second language learners seem really cool and humble. So don’t think I’m accusing you of being rude. I’m not. Rather, I am is grateful that you’ve cared enough to read this far and have allowed me to share the above thoughts with you.
I want to give you an example that represents the above transition and I thank Velma Foust (an ASL teacher and a Deaf language model) in advance since I’m going to possibly make her blush here by using her as an object lesson: She is one of the most thoughtful, respectful, caring people you can imagine. (She is also tough as nails though!) She is Deaf of Deaf, an amazing signer, and I’ve seen her teach. Her students are very fortunate to have her. Here’s the object lesson:
In an online post Velma used the phrase "lazy signing." Later when someone (Bee Vicars) gently suggested the term “efficient” signing (instead of lazy signing) Velma simply replied, “New one for me. Thank you for sharing that.”
There were two awesome bits to be learned from the interchange:
1. Bee was careful of Velma’s and other people’s feelings and didn’t use criticism but basically said: I prefer to do it this other way.
2. Velma, (being self-confident and self-assured) gracefully added the idea to her already vast teaching repertoire, said “thanks,” and moved on – expressing peace and love.
May we all be as gentle in our suggestions and as humble in our reception of feedback.
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