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March 18, 2003

Talking hands

From: San Bernardino Sun, CA - Mar 18, 2003

American Sign Language is a 'beautiful, intimate' language that bears little resemblance to English

By Jessica Wyland Carney
Staff Writer

Kids Page writer Jessica Wyland Carney recently visited the California School for the Deaf in Riverside to learn about American Sign Language and the deaf community.

Here's the interview:

Is recess quiet at a school for the deaf?

Most people think that during recess at a school for the deaf the playground would be silent. It's quite the opposite.

"They are very loud," said Laurie Pietro, outreach coordinator for California School for the Deaf, Riverside (CSDR). "Here's the difference: they don't know how loud they are being."

Instead of bells to signify lunchtime or a fire drill, CSDR is uses flashing lights.

Can deaf people drive?

"Deaf people can drive," said Pietro. "People think they can't because they don't hear horns or sirens, but they are always using their peripheral vision."

Is sign language a real language?

American Sign Language (ASL) is very complex and is the native language of many deaf men and women, as well as some hearing children born into deaf families.

ASL shares no grammatical similarities to English and is not in any way a broken, mimed, or gestural form of English. In fact, in terms of syntax, ASL shares more with spoken Japanese than it does with English.

Hand gestures are only one component of ASL -- eyebrow and mouth movements make up a crucial part of the grammatical system.

"Where a hearing person uses tone of voice to express mood, a deaf person will use facial expressions," Pietro said.

Just a twitch of the eye can tell someone in ASL that you understand what they're talking about.

"ASL is a beautiful, intimate language full of expression," Pietro said. Touching, hugging and eye-contact are very important components of ASL.

Can deaf people watch TV?

As long as it has captions, Pietro said deaf people can watch television. Contrary to common belief, not all deaf people can read lips.

What are some advantages of knowing ASL?

"We can talk with our mouths completely full," Pietro joked.

Deaf people can also communicate from greater distances as long as they can see each other.

"On a road trip I can tell the person in the car behind me that I need to pull over to use the restroom," Pietro said. "We don't even need cell phones."

Can all deaf people communicate with each other?

ASL is spoken in the United States and some parts of Canada, but other countries -- from Mexico to Russia to France -- have their own sign language, completely different from ASL. Within the United States there are four different ASL dialects.

ASL is totally different from British Sign Language even though both countries speak English.

What do CSDR students do for fun?

Just like any other school, CSDR students are active in sports and drama club, they watch movies, go to dances and use their own slang. The music blares at their dances, Pietro pointed out. They can't hear it, but they can feel the vibrations in the floor.

Do your hands ever get tired from talking?

"No," Pietro said. "Your brain gets tired and your eyes get tired."

Copyright © 2003 San Bernardino County Sun