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April 1, 2010

Callison: A new spin on sign language

From: Sioux Falls Argus Leader - Apr 1, 2010


When Brad Wyant learned sign language, he didn't know it was a method of communication that dated back centuries.

But when he researched its history, he found that in North America sign language extended back to Native Americans who used it to converse with members of other tribes.

Wyant, the first deaf student to attend Brandon Valley High School, also didn't know that the manual alphabet used in sign language dated back to a Spanish monk in the 16th century.

But what Wyant has learned during his years of using American Sign Language is that it, like any method of communication, must be receptive to change.

And the Sioux Falls man has a few changes of his own to propose.

Wyant has written and illustrated a book titled "Rhyming Signing: Proper Handshapes with Precise Movements for American Sign Language."

In the book, he suggests what he calls an innovative approach to teaching sign language.

Wyant groups similar hand signs together, even though they may be used to form words with completely different meanings in the English language.

By doing that, he says, "it is logical that students will learn to sign more vocabulary in less time."

For example, after Wyant learned the alphabet in ASL, curving his hand in different shapes to spell out words, he then learned the signs for different objects.

But his instructors would group the signs together.

"They teach you in groups like you learn everything there is in the kitchen: fork, spoon, bowl," Wyant says. "Or they talk about the living room: TV, couch, chair."

With Wyant's method, you learn the shape for the letter O, curving the first four fingers until they touch the thumb.

With both hands curved in the O shape, Wyant would teach an ASL student the word "owl," using both hands to circle the eyes and rotating the wrist.

Then he would move on to the word opportunity, which again uses both hands in the O shape, this time near the upper stomach with the elbows at the side. The hands are pushed forward, while the O changes to the sign for the letter P.

@ 2010 Argus Leader