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June 8, 2006

Watauga County Public Library Hosts Sign Language Program

From: Boone Mountain Times, USA - Jun 8, 2006

By Mike Shands

High Country residents can learn a different form of communication this month at the Watauga County Public Library.

Sign language instructor Liz Derrick will present a workshop on the ABCs of the sign language alphabet Saturday, June 17 at 1 p.m. at the library.

The free program is open to all ages, but teachers and adults will find it especially useful, Derrick said.

“I will do basic sign language plus the manual alphabet,” she said. “I will also do some signs that children enjoy, like animals.”

Derrick said that the manual alphabet uses various finger shape combinations to stand for the letters of the alphabet. Spelling out each word using the manual alphabet is known as the Rochester Method of sign language and is a laborious way to communicate, she said.

That’s because a deaf person using the manual alphabet to communicate would be the equivalent of a speaking person spelling out a word, letter by letter, instead of simply saying the word.

Sign language is a way of using finger and hand positions to communicate. It is most commonly used by the deaf, but many of those who can speak also use sign language for various purposes.

In sign language, individual gestures are called signs. Each sign has three parts: the hand shape, the position of the hands and the movement of the hands.

Derrick said that various cultures have always used a rudimentary form of sign language and that an organized form of the communication was probably introduced in America almost two centuries ago.

She also said that sign language is not universal – people who are deaf from different countries speak different sign languages. In the United States there are a variety of sign language forms in addition to the Rochester Method.

Probably the most rudimentary form is something Derrick referred to as homemade sign language, which uses homemade signs that would be different from those used by families in other homes.

Signing Exact English (SEE) is an educational tool to teach deaf children. Every word has a sign, and words are signed in the same order and syntax as English. Derrick said that this is also a laborious method of sign language communication.

American Sign Language (ASL) is the most commonly used sign language in the United States and is the indigenous sign language of the deaf.

It uses the signs of SEE, but follows a different syntax and word order. ASL also makes use of body language, facial expressions and sign movement.

“In essence it is an ‘artistic’ language that uses space to create a story or thought or anything that we are able to capture with speech or written words,” Derrick said. “American Sign Language has evolved over time and is still evolving.”

Many hearing people use something called Pigeon Sign Language to communicate with the deaf because using ASL’s particular sign order and syntax can make it difficult for them to sign and speak at the same time, Derrick said.

“A gifted person who can speak English and sign ASL at the same time is truly gifted,” she said. It is like people who are bilingual and can think in each or both languages.”

Not Just For The Deaf

Derrick said that sign language does have additional uses as a non-verbal form of communication. One of the most beneficial of those uses is as a way for parents to communicate with their babies before the babies learn to speak. She said that signing requires fewer muscles than talking.

“It’s easier to learn sign language than to talk,” Derrick said. “Our grandson was signing 100 signs before he was 1 year old. A lot of people do it. (Babies) can learn the sign for milk, cookie, more and many other things.

“The more consistently you use sign language in the home, the faster a baby will pick it up.”

Decades Of Experience

The co-coordinator of the deaf and special needs ministry at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, Derrick also teaches sign language to students and staff at Appalachian Christian School. She taught sign language at the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton for 20 years and at Appalachian State University for 25 years.

Derrick and her husband, Buck, had three hearing children, then adopted two deaf children. They adopted a 22-month-old deaf boy and later adopted a 13-and-½-year-old deaf girl from Korea.

“We had to communicate with our children so we learned sign language with our 22-month-old,” Derrick said.

The Derricks’ adopted daughter knew Korean sign language, but not American Sign Language, so she had to learn that.

“Sign language is not an international language,” Derrick said.

Fun Fact

Derrick said that at the Lincoln Memorial Monument in Washington, D.C., one of Abraham Lincoln’s hands is forming an “A” in sign language, and the other is forming an “L.”

The library is located at 140 Queen St., on the corner of Queen and Depot streets near downtown Boone. Call (828) 264-8784 or look online at for more information.

©2006 The Mountain Times. All rights reserved.