ASL (American Sign Language): Different Essentials to Visual Language

Posted by Audrey Dubois-Boutet on September 09, 2008

Did you know that there are several different styles or methods of ASL (American Sign Language) that can be used for the Deaf culture and Hard of Hearing? It is easy to think that ASL (American Sign Language) covers the complete visual language for this social group, but based upon the background of an individual, their preferences and needs might extend beyond visual signing. They may need Oral Interpreting, Close Signing, Tactile Signing or a combination of several in order to fully understand a conversation. Understanding your client’s needs and their preferred style can be a very important step. Different styles aid to different individuals and their preference of retrieving information. Knowing the key essentials of ASL can render a new light for you and your client. Check out the differences below.

ASL (American Sign Language): ASL is a complex visual language, with its own unique syntax, grammar and sentence structure used by many deaf and hard of hearing clients. ASL is not directly from the English Language or solely a form of signed English. Clients who have ASL as their first or only language may not have learned English. ASL is its own visual language, meaning that the information is expressed with combinations of handshapes, palm orientations, movements of the hands, and facial expressions. ASL is used natively and predominantly by the Deaf and hard-of-hearing within the United States and Canada. ASL can also include both finger-spelling borrowings from English, as well as the incorporation of alphabetic letters from English words into ASL signs to distinguish related meanings of what would otherwise be covered by a single sign in ASL.

PSE (Pidgin Sign/Signed English)/Contact Signing: PSE is a combination of ASL signing and English grammar. However, word endings and words unnecessary to the overall understanding of conversation are not usually included. For example, if the sentence “The dog jumped the fence“is spoken within a speech or lecture, the interpreter may just sign “Dog, Jump, Fence“, skipping any unnecessary words or phrases. PSE can range from being more ASL-based to being more English-based depending on what the client is comfortable using.

SEE (Signed/Signing Exact English): SEE is a method of manual communication that visually represents spoken English. Some vocabulary is taken from ASL, supplemented with special signs that allow English to be signed exactly as it is spoken.

Deaf/Blind (tactile and close-vision):
Tactile signing is a method of communication through which the interpreter uses ASL signs or finger-spelling on the hand or hands of the Deaf/Blind person.

Close-vision can be used when the client still has some sight. The interpreter needs to sign in very close proximity to the client, use smaller, more compact gestures and any other accommodations (lighting, clothing, etc.) to maximize the ability of the client to see the interpreter as clearly as possible.

Oral Interpreting: For Oral Interpreting, the interpreter must clearly articulate, with their mouth (without voice), what is being said for a client who relies primarily on lip-reading (speech reading). Oral Interpreting does not usually include signing as in Transliteration.

Transliteration: For Transliteration, the interpreter mouths the words being spoken (without voice) while signing for a client who reads lips and uses the signing to clarify the communication. The emphasis is not solely on the mouth as in Oral Interpreting.

Real Time Captioning/CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation): Real Time Captioning and CART are mostly used for presentations, workshops or training courses. English text appears as it is spoken, on a laptop or large screen, as it is typed on a stenotype machine (also used in court reporting). This type of communication can only be used for those deaf or hard of hearing clients who read and understand English.

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Topics: Sign Language, Deaf