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March 11, 2005

Accent's on signing

From: New York Daily News - New York,NY,USA - Mar 11, 2005

Prof's handy guide shows silent word variations

Anyone who has tried to learn a second language - or even speak the first one they learned properly - knows the devil is in the nuances.

Words take on different meanings depending on anything from how they're used in a sentence to how they are pronounced - "mine" as in I own it or "mine" for gold, for example.

Turns out sign language is the same way.

Carole Lazorisak knows that deaf and hearing-impaired people use a variety of hand and facial forms and movements to convey the same thought, depending on the type of sign language they learned.

"It's not only what you sign, but how you do it," Lazorisak said.

Those can range from proper American Sign Language to regional versions of it - just as in verbal exchanges, Northerners seldom speak like Southerners and vice versa - or even signing learned in the home.

There is even "house" sign language: colloquial signing created by people who live in the same house.

That's why when a publisher approached Lazorisak, who has been deaf since birth, to create a sign language manual, she decided she had to incorporate as many of the different sign inflections for each word or phrase as possible.

Then Lazorisak - associate professor of deaf studies at CUNY's LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens - recruited her husband, Andrew Lazorisak, and daughter, Dawn Donohue, and got to work.

The result is "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Conversational Sign Language" (Alpha Books, 2004). The 261-page manual contains more than 600 illustrations of signing technique.

The authors served as models for the illustrations. Andrew Lazorisak drew the directional pictures.

The book also includes a DVD featuring both women signing the book's instructions. The work has gotten rave reviews on

"It was a labor of love," said Donohue. "There are a lot of deaf people in the world, and more and more people are becoming deaf as they get older, so the need is there.

"We want to fill that need."

More than 80 students are enrolled in LaGuardia's deaf studies program, which began offering degrees two years ago.

Lazorisak was born and raised on Staten Island, where she still lives. She said she has been signing all her life, since even before she entered Public School 40.

She attended New Dorp High School, leaving in in her junior year at age 16 for Gallaudet College for the Deaf, now Gallaudet University, in Washington.

There she earned degrees in psychology and sociology before heading to New York University for a master's in deafness rehabilitation, counseling and vocational rehabilitation. She worked toward a doctorate in teaching, curriculum development and technology at Teachers College, Columbia University.

She's a tenured faculty member at LaGuardia, where she has taught for eight years in the natural and applied sciences department's Human Services Program.

Lazorisak said she sees the book as a bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds.

Hard experience has taught her that deaf people and hearing-impaired people - estimates place their number at between 8% and 10% of the U.S. population, or as many as 28 million - often find themselves on the outside looking in, even in the most well-meaning families.

"You're sitting at the dinner table and someone tells a joke," Lazorisak said. "Everyone is laughing. You ask what they said and someone says they will tell you later, but they never do."

Lazorisak has won numerous honors and traveled around the world. A computer instructional program she is developing at LaGuardia illustrates cultural differences in sign languages with photos she's taken in Hawaii, Thailand and other exotic locals.

© 2005 Daily News, L.P.