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American Sign Language: Contact Signing

Also known as: Pidgin Signed English (PSE)

Note:  ASL linguistics tend to use the term "Contact Signing" rather than PSE or "pidgin."  The reason for this is that "contact signing" doesn't quite seem to fit the commonly held definition (or conventions) of  a typical "pidgin" language as defined by linguists.  But, out in the general Deaf Community you will still see the term PSE or "pidgin" used from time to time as a way of referring to the "contact signing" that often occurs when Deaf and Hearing people interact.

DrVicars: What is a "pidgin?"

Monica:  "A combination of two languages."

DrVicars: Okay, so what does PSE stand for, anybody know?

Sandy: Pidgin Sign English

DrVicars: Is it a language?

Tigie: yes

Monica: yes

Sandy: yes but no rules

DrVicars:  Contact signing varies a lot but it does have some "standard characteristics of usage" which could loosely be considered "rules."

KC: (like Ebonics)

Tigie: :-)

Sandy: q

DrVicars: GA Sandy  [GA means "Go Ahead"]

Sandy: If there are so many forms of PSE, how do people communicate who try to use it?

DrVicars: Good question. First, let's clarify that PSE or contact signing is not a language.  It can be considered a "communication system." Some might even call it a "Creole," (A Creole is a more complex form of a Pidgin).  But most linguists will tell you that contact signing is not a language in the sense that ASL and English are.  Thus it is common for people to think of contact signing as a "pidgin" even though it may not fit the regular definition of a pidgin. 

DrVicars: PSE is a mix of ASL signs and English grammar. It is used to bridge the gap between Hearies and Deafies when they are together. I hope that my use of the term Hearies and Deafies is not offensive to any of you.

Tigie: doesn't offend me

DrVicars: Anyway, a pidgn is helpful for those times when two different language speakers make contact like Hearing and Deaf, ASL and English. You end up with a "contact" communication system that the people use when they are together but that neither tends to use at home.

KC: Is PSE the language interpreters use?

DrVicars: Interpreters use a wide variety of signing systems including SEE (Signing Exact English), contact signing (PSE), ASL, and other communication modes as needed (mime, gesture, fingerspelling). It depends on the client and the situation.

DrVicars: It also varies from region to region. In the Northern Utah area (where I lived when I was younger) there was a significant amount of Signed English mixed into the ASL (as a result of the influence of the Utah School for the Deaf having used quite a bit of Signed English in the classroom).

Which brings up an interesting point:

You might ask a Deaf person what he signs, he will tend to respond, "ASL." He may actually be signing PSE or in a very "English-like" manner but not realize it because he has never taken a formal ASL course or perhaps has not yet interacted much with native Deaf ASL signers since he had Hearing parents and grew up signing SEE or PSE in whatever school program he was in.

When such a Deaf person gets out in the world his signs tend to become more ASL-like as he interacts with the Deaf Community in general.

Don't get me wrong here.  Most members of the "Adult Deaf Community" throughout the U.S.) do use American Sign Language.  It is also true that most of us Deaf people are bilingual (know two languages) to the extent that we also know English.  (I didn't say we are English Majors in college though).  And since we are bilingual we will often switch over and sign PSE to you instead of ASL since we know you are Hearing.

Sandy: So, would people well "versed" in ASL be pretty understanding as we learn and bridge the gap?

DrVicars: Oh yes! We are generally very nice about it. Wouldn't you be if you were Deaf?

Sandy: :-)

Art: Cool

Monica: Like going to a foreign country and having to find the ladies room...You get the message across :)

Sandy: LOL

DrVicars: Yes that is correct.

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