Taking Languages for Granted

Most people won’t even think about this…we do take our languages for granted. We presume to think we know everything possible there is to know about our own languages, whether you’re a layman or a linguist.

I use two languages on a daily basis – American Sign Language and English (whether written/read or spoken; writing/reading is what I like best about English). I have been teaching ASL for the last 4 years or so and I still learn tons about the language when I teach or use it in a context explaining the language. It continues to be an interesting ride.

The point? Today, I finally worked on Dragon NaturallySpeaking program on my laptop and that is a program that can translate speech to text (and vise versa). Most hearing people do not appreciate the spoken language. I am deaf and have been since 1 year old, speech training is a first hand and old experience. I do know I have certain problems with some sounds. So when I went through the training to establish speech recognition…I had to enlist a co-worker’s help in the enunciation of several words because of those certain sounds I have problems with.

I learned a few things today. “The” has two pronunciations – depends on the word after ‘the’; if the word starts with a vowel or consonant. Ehh? Whom ever designed the program must be nuts because how English speakers pronounce words are not the same so how do one expect the speech recognition to be correct? 3 hours…to go through 4 steps to establish speech recognition between me and my co-worker.

Folks…if you can hear, you will need to applaud those who are hard of hearing and deaf willing to take on speech training for more than 5  years just to communicate with the large population who speak.  This is not mandatory for those who hear but is so for those with hearing loss to conform to the society that doesn’t believe ASL is a language. It. Is. Not. Easy. Period. (Thanks to the honest and straightforward speech therapists too).

I can appreciate how learning ASL is hard for those who are learning it; keep in mind that most of us who have had speech training, have been doing this for years since childhood and even as adults, still have a hard time.  This is why those who are native ASL (or signers) users would revert to ASL because it is a language as comfortable as English speaking is to hearing people.

Try an experiment – plug in your ears, try lipreading several people whom you know speak in different ways via pronunciation, various word usage and the speed of the speech.  I am not saying anything more.

Most people take for granted one language use. One advantage of being deaf is the ability to acquire multiple ways to communicate and often times they have 2 languages to build from, which in America is ASL (or sign language, yet not a language, another topic for another time) and English. Some will have 3 languages; including Spanish. You wonder…multiple ways to communicate… ‘pshaw’ HOW?

Y’all know how to read and write, right?  What about gesturing? Ummm…typing? Can one be willing to break the norms of ‘not pointing’? This is a linguistic norm for ASL users. If you can draw stick figures, one can communicate that way. If you think the struggle is not worth it, tsk tsk. If Deaf and hard of hearing are willing, why can’t you?

The above abilities are a part of a language; yet most people rely on spoken language only to determine linguistic capability and comprehension. This doesn’t make sense because written English has a rigid form while spoken language is fluid. So comprehension of two different forms would be more confusing than one would expect.

The same can be said for other languages, including ASL.


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