Have You Ever Seenů? An American Sign Language (ASL) Handshape DVD/Book
reviewed by Joan Wink & Dawn Wink - October 22, 2007
Title: Have You Ever Seenů? An American Sign Language (ASL) Handshape DVD/Book
Author(s): Adonia K. Smith and E. Lynn Jacobowitz
Publisher: ASL Rose, Frederick
ISBN: 097646004, Pages: 76, Year: 2005
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Language, thought, and culture come to life through the hands in Have You Ever Seen ? An American Sign Language (ASL) Handshape DVD/Book by Adonia K. Smith and E. Lynn Jacobowitz. You cannot read this book without moving your hands; we tried. Not possible. This whimsical book is not only informative, but also readable and fun while simultaneously offering insights into the complex nature of teaching and learning for all involved with Deaf education.
The purpose of this first book in a series is to focus on the development of bilingual materials in American Sign Language (ASL) and English. In addition, the authors seek to share the notion of visual rhyming for the Deaf reader (p. vii). However, the book far exceeds its goals, in that it expands the knowledge of Deaf education for all learners: hearing or non-hearing, adult or child. The strength of Have You Ever Seen? is grounded in its assumptions which spring from the expertise of the authors.
What are the assumptions of Smith and Jacobowitz which provide the theoretical framework for the practical knowledge in this book? We are two teacher educators, and the practical knowledge within this book is invaluable. For example, the authors compare the dynamic nature of ASL to Picassos art, and they find Signed English to be as unnatural as paint-by-numbers. The Deaf culture is as rich with humor, story-telling, and mutually-understood traditions as any other culture. Poetry in the Deaf culture is as subtle as in English or any other language, only it is demonstrated in unique ways by the use of rhymes (similar handshapes), rhythms of the movements, and facial grammar. ASLTA is a teachers association specifically for the enhancement of ASL. Acronyms are central within Deaf education, too; CODA (child of Deaf adults), SODA (sibling or spouse of Deaf adults), and GODA (grandchild of Deaf adults) are all central to Deaf education. Cherology to the Deaf culture is what phonology is to the non-Deaf culture. Whereas the English alphabet has 26 letters, ASL has 44 handshapes, and the phonology of each is made evident from handshapes, palm orientation, movement, location and non-manual signals. Audism is the belief by the hearing community that speech is superior to ASL.
PAH! This sign is easily made by holding up the index finger only and is universally accepted to mean: Enough! The students of Gallaudet University used this sign when they demanded a Deaf president for their institution. In this case, PAH for us implies: Enough examples of the practical knowledge garnered in this bookas teacher educators, we should have known all of this to share in our classes with future teachers. We didnt, and now we do after reading this book.
What sets Have You Ever Seen ? apart from many other books on Deaf education is the bilingual education research that infuses its content. We describe the underlying theoretical assumptions below.
First, ASL is simply another language and therefore fits under the umbrella of bilingual education. Not only is ASL another language, it is also an authentic, natural, and legitimate language. Consequently, it is the best medium of instruction for those for whom ASL is the primary language. James Cummins, internationally respected bilingual researcher, cites the longitudinal data, which demonstrate that knowledge and proficiency in the primary language transfer to the second language and additional languages. His and many others contributions in the field of language acquisition have infused and enhanced Deaf education in the past few decades.
Historically, Deaf education has been taught from a subtractive approach, which assumed ASL was less than English and that Deaf students had to be assimilated into the hearing culture as much as possible. Based on years of research of the cognitive, academic, and social benefits of learning in the primary language, Deaf education is now taught from an additive or enrichment approach in that language and culture are the foundation for all further learning. Colin Bakers succinct statement serves as a guiding beacon: A language divorced from its culture is like a body without a soul (p.15). ASL is the body and soul of Deaf education.
Previously, the notion of audism dominated Deaf education. Audism reflects the assumption that the Deaf culture and ASL are intrinsically inferior to a spoken language and that the Deaf should assimilate as much as possible, as quickly as possible, into the hearing culture. This prejudice has had the same effects on the Deaf community as it has on speakers of languages other than English: bicultural ambivalence, which is shame of the first culture, anger toward the second. This deficit assumption carries all of the negative and destructive consequences, which it inherently engenders.
Second, finger spelling and handshapes are not the same thing. Signed English is an artificially constructed language and leads to children not learning, much like speaking Spanish with imposed English grammar and sentence structure. It is a contrived language and serves to diminish the true essence and meaning of real communication, frequently resulting in confusion and hindering cognitive, linguistic, and academic success. ASL communicates for the Deaf culture their unique linguistic, cultural, and social norms, just as spoken languages do for their linguistic communities.
Third, learning and fun go hand-in-hand. For example, playing with rhymes (or visual rhymes) is as beneficial in ASL for childrens learning, as is it in English for English-speaking communities or Spanish for Spanish communities, etc. Just as spoken language communities each have jokes, plays on words, and stories unique to that culture, so does the Deaf culture and ASL. Signing these jokes and stories in standard English fails to capture the nuance and subtleties that work to bind the culture together in common experience. It is akin to telling a joke in Spanish to native Spanish speakers, inserting English grammar and sentence structure. Not only does it lose the magic and essence of what is trying to be communicated, it serves to confuse the listener.
From Lev Vygotsky we learn that language, thought, and culture are constantly interacting to create new meaning for each of us. Learning is the dynamic interrelationship of words creating new ideas and all is grounded in our cultural, experiential background. Have You Ever Seen .? provides readers of both Deaf and hearing cultures an overview of some of the unique history and contemporary foundations of Deaf culture, as well as a firm understanding of the relationship between first and second language acquisition and the vital importance of education in ASL and pride in the Deaf culture for the future of Deaf education.