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Topic: A tail is not a dog

Some people point to "Performance ASL" and call it ASL.
That is like pointing to "Ariana Grande" singing a song on stage and calling it "English."

While the person on stage may indeed be singing a song in English -- that isn't how most people talk to each other in English in everyday real life communication.

Can you imagine an English as a Second Language learner being told that "real English" is what you see Ariana Grande doing up there on stage?

Next picture that ESL student visiting America and going around belting out a tune every time they interact with someone.

The same goes for ASL.
Some people point to ASL performers doing "Performance ASL" on stage or in a video and say, "Now THAT'S ASL!"

Um... no. That's "Performance ASL."

Pointing to P-ASL and calling it ASL is like pointing to a "tail" and calling it a "dog."

The danger of pointing to a tail and calling it a dog is that people who don't know any better will actually believe tails are dogs.

The danger of pointing to Performance ASL and calling it "ASL" is that beginning signers might think that they are supposed to go around wildly gesticulating as if they were a stage performer.  Or worse they might think, "Gee, I could never do that. I guess I'll go learn French instead." Some may even say to themselves, "I'll never be able to sign like that! I should just die now and get it over with."

Think I'm joking? Millions of people get old and lose their hearing. It is a depressing, life-altering event for them. They lose the ability to communicate verbally with their friends, their family, and society in general. They often lose their jobs. It is so stressful and depressing that some simply take their own lives or die early due in part to loneliness.

I've literally had an experience where a friend pulled me aside (after a Deaf organization meeting) and ask me if HE signed ASL. (This was a Deaf person, married to another Deaf person, who worked in a Deaf profession, had attended a Deaf school, and was the leader of a Deaf organization!!!) 

I asked him why in the world was he asking me (in ASL!) if he signed ASL!?  He responded (in normal, traditional ASL) that he recently had an interpreter who was wildly gesticulating all over the place and when he asked the interpreter what she was doing the interpreter replied, "ASL!"  Upon further inquiry the interpreter replied, "Well, that's what they taught me at XYZ* College!"

There I was having to assure a fellow member of the Deaf Community (with excellent native ASL signing skills) that his signing was indeed ASL.

American Sign Language is a spectrum. 

The interpreter was likely doing a type of signing that was on the far end of the spectrum -- towards Performance ASL. She was also apparnelyt using a very large "signing box" as if she were on stage interpreting for an audience instead of for an individual one-on-one.

A "signing box" is the area within which your hands typically move when you sign. If you use large or exaggerated movements -- your signing box is said to be large.

While it is all nice and good to celebrate and admire "Performance ASL" -- we should keep in mind that a "tail" isn't a dog.  

You can be a dang good signer and have a normal sized signing box. 

You don't have to get up on stage and use Performance ASL to have a fine life filled with normal ASL communication. 

Yes, yes, of course people learning sign language should make appropriate use of facial expression and sign in an engaging way!  ASL teachers should emphasize the importance of facial grammar and other non-manual signals.  

But it is okay to "not" be a stage performer.




*Name of the college changed since faculty retire or move on and programs evolve. No sense in throwing darts at any particular program.


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