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Initialization / Initialized Signing (2)
Initialized signs 1
In a message dated 8/14/2007 7:12:40 P.M. Pacific Daylight
Time, annsavedbygrace(at)mchsi.com writes:
...I have a question. I
understand that initializing words based on English is
not really ASL. But when I read about that, I thought
about the signs for 'aunt', 'uncle', 'cousin'...
'family,' 'class' and other words. These are all
initialized. How can it be alright to initialize some
words, but not others?
What is "alright" in a language is a moving target.
The things that are "alright" today, might not be "alright" a
year from now.
I have pinned down some of my colleagues and friends and asked
them that same question.
I love my colleagues and friends, but I've gotten some pretty
ridiculous answers. One of them answered something to the effect of,
"It is okay to use initialization that was naturally developed
and in use in the Deaf community prior to the development and
spread of the various Signed English systems invented by Hearing
people--but it is not okay to use initialization that came about
as a result of Hearing people inventing signs."
I had to stare at his face for a moment to make sure he wasn't
kidding me. He wasn't.
So, if you are looking for a logical reason for why "certain
signs" can be initialized and others can't -- I doubt you will
find much agreement. If you ask experts about it, most of them
will just squirm a bit and tell you that's the way it is or they
will come up with some "strange reason."
The real reason is simply the "law of consensus." It is a form
of evolution. Mutations are introduced into a language. Such
mutations will tend to be perceived as strange by the
old-timers. If the mutation is compellingly beneficial it will
gain a foothold and start building acceptance within the
community. After enough of the old-timers die off, the new
members of the community (who grew up with the beneficial
mutation) will simply embrace it as natural. Eventually a
consensus will develop that the new sign (mutation) is "okay."
If a mutation is not compellingly beneficial, it will die off.
For example, for a very, very brief time back in the
early 1990's the term "text telephone" was introduced into the
language. The sign was a double T (slightly reformed while
moved an inch or two to the side). This sign was not
beneficial. We already had a sign for a text telephone: TTY.
Trying to shorten the sign to TT didn't work because it was
easily confused with the sign for "bathroom/toilet."
So, where does that leave you as a second-language learner
trying to pick up ASL? How do you know which signs are okay to
initialize and which ones are not?
1. Hang out with members of the Deaf community. Make a list of
any initialized signs that show up on the hands of many Deaf
2. Review the literature: Get a stack of 10 ASL dictionaries
or textbooks. Make sure they say ASL in the title or on the
cover -- not just "sign" or "sign language" or "signing." Look
up your list of initialized signs and see if there is a
consensus in the literature.
3. Check the online ASL dictionaries to see if they agree with
4. Take a few ASL classes from a variety of instructors. For
example try to take two ASL courses at the same time from two
different instructors. Each time you see an instructor use or
teach an initialized sign--make a note of it and then ask the
OTHER teacher what he or she thinks of that sign (no need to
mention where you learned the sign--grin).
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