1. Simon Price

    Simon Price Active Member

    Jul 17, 2017
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    Questions about deafness and sign language

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Simon Price, Jan 23, 2018.

    So, one of the characters in my story is a deaf teenage girl who lost her hearing either due to a complication when she was born or due to a genetic defect (leaning towards the former), and due to the story's supernatural elements, towards the beginning of the book she suddenly finds she can hear.

    Now, while getting her hearing back also does something to hand-wave the fact that she never processed or developed her ability to hear as a baby and thus in real life probably wouldn't hear anything but uncomfortable noise, I plan on playing everything else straight, so for example even though she can hear perfectly fine after she gets her hearing back, she still can't understand speech or even talk immediately (but will eventually start trying to learn both of these things). So I have a few questions about being deaf, specifially:

    1: Is there anything that sign language doesn't let you say that I'll need to consider when writing her "lines"? I hear the sentence structure of ASL is completely different from spoken English. Obviously the reader will be reading it translated into English by whichever POV character can understand her, but is there anything I know about sentences or other things that ASL just plain would not allow for?

    2: How do deaf people refer to people by name when, I'm assuming, there isn't a sign for each individual name on earth?

    3: The idea I had was that she would use her smartphone for a lot of communication, doing most of her major socializing online (she's kind of shy) and also using some app to quickly type out messages to show other people. Is there a more convenient method deaf people use to communicate with people who don't know sign that she'd be far more likely to use than this?

    4: This isn't a POV character, so I'm not going to go heavily into her daily life, but is there anything important writers tend to miss about deaf people that I should consider when writing her and determining her behavior and lines?
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 1, 2008
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    El Tembloroso Caribe
    I can only answer this part. No, there is nothing you can say in English (or any other language) that you cannot express in ASL. Note I use the word express. Languages have different structures, different ways of getting the same idea across, different choices the language makes as regards packing a set of ideas and connotations into one word. Ever see those posts online about "10 words that won't translate into English"? Those posts are SUPER misleading. What they really mean is "10 individual words that don't have individual-word translations in English". Every language has these little custom-made packages of thought that are unique to the language. This doesn't mean they aren't expressable in other languages; it just means you may need to be a little more verbose than just one word. ASL is - and has long been, at this point - a natural, organic language. If the human mind can think it, the person who uses ASL can express it colorfully, vividly, fully. :)

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  3. 8Bit Bob

    8Bit Bob Here ;) Contributor

    Sep 27, 2017
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    Somewhere on this Earth
    2: How do deaf people refer to people by name when, I'm assuming, there isn't a sign for each individual name on earth? When they're saying a proper name I believe they spell it out. However, sometimes a person will be given a special sign by friends and family that becomes like a nickname and makes it easier then spelling out their entire name.

    Note: I could be wrong here, someone please correct me if I am. I've only learned the very basics of ASL.
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  4. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

    Dec 30, 2010
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    Some deaf people learn to lip-read. That would probably help your character in everyday life with people of hearing. Deaf people even sing, and what an amazing singer she is (link below):
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  5. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

    Jun 3, 2015
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    SC, USA
    Lip-reading was my thought too. She may be able to not understand speech itself, but if she can lip-read, she knows what it looks like, which would probably give her a leg up in comparison to someone who isn't a native speaker.

    Wish could help more! I'd suggest looking up articles and personal accounts by deaf / hard of hearing people themselves, rather than asking us ;)
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  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    Well, she might already speak, and she might lip-read, both of which would, I suspect, make this process a lot faster. But it's emphatically not universally regarded as a good thing.

    You may need to research the various choices available to parents of deaf children, and decide which ones seem more characteristic of this character's parents. (Of course a point will come when the choice is the person's, not the parents, but since you're starting in the teen years the parents' choices would, I think, be extremely relevant.)
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  7. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

    Sep 17, 2017
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    When I was a teenager I babysat the hearing children of a deaf couple, and each child had a nickname sign. It was the alphabet sign for their first initial, and because the children's names all began with the same letter, the family created their name signs based on simple characteristics of that person. (The children's names all began with K, so it was K on a cheek for the little girl, K on the forehead for the boy, based on the signs for "girl" and "boy." The dog was the first letter of his name combined with the sign for dog.) When the parents were trying to get the child's attention, they waved the K in the air until the child looked at the parent.) I don't know if that's the standard way it's done, but that's how it was with the in-laws as well.

    My sign language is really rusty, to the point that I can't speak multi-word phrases anymore, so that's all I've got. ;-) ETA: I can teach you how to call someone a dirty pig, though. You know...the important signs.

    ETA: Since I wasn't a fluent signer, and the world at large doesn't sign, the mom carried around a pen and paper for fast, efficient communication with hearing people. But when there was time, they signed with me so I could pick it up.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2018
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  8. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

    Jan 16, 2018
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    1: What Wreybies said.

    2: Fingerspelling. Fluent signers can fingerspell crazy fast (and "read" it crazy fast, too). It's not inefficient.

    3: Phones or just pen and paper is what I've seen used, but I can't claim expert knowledge on this.

    4: This is a huge question! If there doesn't happen to be someone from the Deaf community who comes along to answer you, I'd recommend you start Googling, since there are already guides out there on writing Deaf characters, as well as a plethora of info on Deaf culture.
  9. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.
    If you want to read the research, you can read around the technical language and still get a lot from this article:

    Language development after cochlear implantation: an epigenetic model
    The issue is certain aspects of learning language disappear after about the age of five, if I recall correctly. People can learn language at any age, it's just that we are primed to learn it as young children. Later language acquisition differs.

    Brain imaging predicts language learning in deaf children

    That one looks very useful as some kids do better than others in acquiring language after implants.
  10. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Contributor Contributor

    Aug 11, 2019
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    Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, North America
    #2. These are called "name signs" and they usually are the first letter of the person's name tapped on a body part like the "K" above on the cheek for girl. They usually are informal at the younger ages but become more "personalized" as the deaf person ages and his/her personality becomes more fixed.

    #3. Pen and paper for those of us who grew up pre smart phone era. Or write on your hand.

    General thoughts. There is a *LOT* of overlap in signs because you only have two arms/hands. The exact same sign can mean two very different things depending on very minor variations. For example the sign for "pig" (the animal) and "dirt" and "dirty" are all very similar. And that's in American Sign Language. British Sign Language, Kenyan Sign Language....all different.

    In terms of learning language, there are two aspects to it - acquiring the language and developing it. If I remember correctly, these both take place developmentally in children around the ages of 2 to 6. It's one reason why the medical profession and speech therapists recommend deaf children's parents consider cochlear implants when they are children.

    The deaf community is opposed to this, they see it as abusive and "curing" the child's deafness (which they do not consider a negative) saying it would be better to wait for the child to grow up and turn 18 then decide to get a cochlear implant or not. The problem with this is that the "best" years for acquiring and developing language was way back at the ages of 2 to 6.

    And, a cochlear implant or a hearing aid, all they do is amplify the noise/sounds around you. You have to figure out via trial and error how to interpret all that noise.

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