Sign language can be an effective communications strategy for people with hearing loss.
Sign language includes several systems of manual expression, ranging from American Sign Language (ASL) to various varieties of signed English. These systems have the common advantage that they don’t rely on hearing as a basis for communication. They have the common disadvantages that they are only of value if the person with whom you are communicating can use the system, and learning them demands a sustained and intense commitment.
American Sign Language
American Sign Language is a system of manual communication that has come to be recognized as a language in its own right, separate and distinct from English. It is complete with grammar and syntax, and fully capable of expressing the full range of human experience.
It is the most accessible of the various sign systems, because it is taught as a foreign language in many high schools and colleges. It is very likely that a person can find enough classes to be minimally fluent within a reasonable distance from his home. For younger persons or older persons with unusual determination, becoming fluent in ASL is a reasonable option.
People who are unwilling or unable to really learn ASL can still achieve immense benefit by learning fingerspelling and about 100 signs. Fingerspelling is a method of representing letters on the hand, so that any word can be communicated without requiring hearing. Using fingerspelling can be slow, but it does enable communication where it may not otherwise be possible.
Additionally, learning only 100 signs can greatly ease the communication process. The ability to understand basic signs such as “eat”, “now”, “yesterday”, etc. can really streamline common conversations.
With ASL, as with other sign systems, it is only valuable if at least two people who want to communicate share knowledge of the language. Fortunately, almost anyone can quickly and easily learn fingerspelling and 100 basic signs.
There have historically been a number of systems created that attempt to express English on the hands. These systems are not separate languages, but are methods of expressing English manually rather than vocally. These systems include:
Seeing Essential English (SEE1)
Seeing Essential English (SEE1) was developed in 1966 by David Anthony. It is based on the idea that each English morpheme has a unique sign, and that combining signs on the hands corresponds to combining morphemes on the mouth.
Signing Exact English (SEE2)
Signing Exact English (SEE2) was developed from SEE1. Because it does not reduce signs to the morpheme level, its signs are more closely related to ASL signs. SEE2 devised the two out of three rule, which states that if two of spelling, sound, and meeting are the same for two English words, the words are represented by the same sign. SEE2 has become the most widespread of the sign systems.
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Linguistics of Visual English (LOVE)
Linguistics of Visual English (LOVE) is a derivative of SEE1 and is not commonly used.
The Rochester Method
The Rochester Method consists of fingerspelling everything. It is exceptionally easy to learn and exceptionally hard to use. It is no longer commonly used.
Signed English (also called Pidgin Signed English or PSE) is a system that adheres quite faithfully to ASL vocabulary, but tends to incorporate English grammar. In this sense, it is like a pidgin or a contact language, in that it combines elements of two other languages. Signed English has the advantages of being easier than ASL for late learners to master and is generally readily understood by native ASL users. It is the common system of interaction between native and non-native ASL users, and the system generally used by hard of hearing, late deafened, and oral deaf signers.
Many, if not most, classes that advertise ASL are, in fact, Signed English classes.