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Wednesday, 22 July 2015 21:40

Internet slang meets American Sign Language (with gifs)

How do you sign "new" words?

As language evolves, the powers that regulate language tend to shift. Just look at the Oxford English Dictionary who added terms like "duck face," "lolcat," and "digital footprint" to their prestigious lexicon. For the English-speaking world, these additions are anywhere from ridiculous to annoying but at the end of the day, the terms are accepted and agreed upon.

But how do these new, internet-laden turns of phrase enter the sign language community? Was there a way of expressing "selfie" in ASL, was there a sign for "photobomb?" Our simplistic question turned into a larger conversation about the nature of communication.

We turned to Bill Vicars, the president and owner of an organization called Lifeprint , a company who educates through "technology-enhanced delivery of ASL Instruction, excursion-based instruction (trips to amusement parks), and extended-immersion-based program coordination (intense two-week residencies)." Vicars himself is Deaf/HH, which means he is hard of hearing and culturally Deaf as he has immersed himself in the Deaf community. "In addition to my co workers, the majority of my friends are Deaf... my wife is Deaf," Vicars explains. (Capitalizing 'Deaf' refers to the Deaf community, as noted by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, in Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (1988), "We use the lowercase deaf when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, and the uppercase Deaf when referring to a particular group of deaf people who share a language – American Sign Language (ASL) – and a culture.") Vicars' website also offers a dictionary of ASL signs. The dictionary has been an ongoing project for Vicars since he started his organization and his means of including words is a multi-tiered process:

"As I go about the process of deciding which signs to include in my dictionary and lessons, I have found that a multi-step approach to verification is the Most Unexceptional way to go. First, I do a 'literature review.' I compare numerous respected sign language dictionaries and textbooks to see how the sign is demonstrated in those dictionaries. Occasionally, the dictionaries conflict with each other but eventually a dominant sign tends to emerge. After doing a thorough review of the literature it is time to interview a cross section of Deaf adults who have extensive experience signing... I make it a goal to ask a minimum of ten advanced Deaf signers how 'they' do it. The next stage of investigating a sign is to consider how the sign is done in other locations and decide which version is more widely used... The last stage is to post the sign online to my website where it is exposed to the scrutiny of thousands of individuals - many of whom then email me and tell me their version is better."

"The fun thing about 'living languages' is that they are always evolving and changing," Vicars says. "You might want to consider that many English words that originated in other countries were 'grafted' into English and are now commonly considered to be part of the English language. The same process takes place in ASL. Whether a sign becomes accepted or not, only time will tell."

While Lifeprint is one of the more popular ASL websites, Vicars notes that there is no "official" ASL website, as the government has yet to make one, leaving only a few grassroots sites to fill the void.

When we asked Douglas Ridloff if he had ever heard of Lifeprint, he hadn't. Douglas is an ASL artist, actor and educator and the current coordinator of ASL Slam, a space for Deaf performing artists to share poetry and storytelling in American Sign Language. "It's almost like an open mic if you will," Douglas communicated via interpreter over the phone, "I call it an open stage because we don't use a mic. Basically, the mission of ASL Slam is to provide a space for people to develop their own work, to give a venue to artists who have been working a long time... It's all about collaboration, between artists and the community."

We invited Douglas and one of his Deaf students, 12-year-old Brooklyn resident Tully Stelzer, to a video shoot to sign some of these newer Internet terms on camera and to have a dialogue about it and the difference between how separate generations sign and the ways in which communication is learned.

Tully seemed nervous but gradually fell into place, performing like a seasoned professional. She already had some experience in front of the camera, performing in an ASL homage to Pharrell's song "Happy" on Youtube. As we adjusted her seat, Tully signed to Lynnette who told us that Tully says she doesn't sign so low. We didn't understand until Lynnette explained, "Men sign lower than women, men sign closer to the hip."

 

PHOTOBOMB (verb)
Spoil a photograph of (a person or thing) by unexpectedly appearing in the camera's field of view as the picture is taken, typically as a prank or practical joke: We were interrupted and photobombed by at least twenty tourists.

EMOJI (noun)
A small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication: Emoji liven up your text messages with tiny smiley faces.

SELFIE (noun)
Informal. A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media: Occasional selfies are acceptable, but posting a new picture of yourself every day isn't necessary.

DUCKFACE (noun)
An exaggerated pouting expression in which the lips are thrust outwards, typically made by a person posing for a photograph: The pop star pursed her lips into a duck face in one shot.

SCREENCAP (noun)
A screenshot or screen grab: The website lets people submit screencaps of their autocorrect mishaps.

SMH (abbreviation)
informal shaking (or shake) my head (used in electronic communication to express disapproval, exasperation, frustration, etc.): They'll do anything for ratings. SMH SMH at your silly remarks I can both understand the outrage and SMH at it.

FOODCOMA (noun)
A state of sleep or extreme lethargy induced by the consumption of a large amount of food: I fell into a post-dinner food coma.

FIVE-SECOND RULE (humorous)
A notional rule stating that food which has been dropped on the ground will still be uncontaminated with bacteria and therefore safe to eat if it is retrieved within five seconds: Was I right to apply the five-second rule to the three slices of ham that left a damp, greasy ring on the kitchen floor?

ONESIE (noun)
A loose-fitting one-piece leisure garment covering the torso and legs: I'd had a bath and was in my onesie ready to settle down for yet another reality TV marathon.

 

You can read the whole article here: http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/now/internet/168477-internet-american-sign-language

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