Yes, currently baby sign language is all the rage. But that language came from somewhere! When we use baby sign language we are not only teaching our children valuable skills in communication but we are also submerging ourselves in a little known world known as Deaf culture.
What exactly is Deaf culture, you ask?
So What Is Deaf Culture?
First off culture is defined as a learned set of behaviors that belongs to a specific group of people who share language, values, traditions and even rules amongst their own behavior. In the Deaf community, all of the above are what make up their very rich and defined culture, that you are passing down to your children, cool right?!
When we use sign language whether it’s with our children or family members we are communicating, not with words but with motions and gestures that ultimately have one key meaning. In Deaf culture this is sharing of a language, much like families who share words they are sharing verbs, nouns, people, places things all with their hands. American Sign Language is indeed regarded as a real language and in most cases it is described as a “masterpiece made specifically for the Deaf.”
Changes to American Sign Language (ASL)
With culture comes values, Deaf culture holds American Sign Language as our natural language and works to preserve this language, because there have been many changes to the ASL system (like home sign, SEE, and PSE signs.)
These changes aren't entirely supported or valued in our Deaf culture as it robs one's ability to communicate effectively in an ASL conversation. Speech or more so not speaking is another non-valued component of Deaf culture, as when one is speaking instead of using sign it ostracizes and forces the non-speaking person out of the conversation. Even with lip reading the use of sign in conversation where needed is much more respected then the expectation of us conforming to speech.
ASL IS BEAUTIFUL!
There is no shortage of beautiful art, literature, stories, drama, media, history, and poetry (think: Ella Lentz) that teach the complex aspects of Deaf culture. The expressiveness of sign language goes far beyond the signs alone. Did you know ASL can be used to interpret songs? This is a more common art form among the hard-of-hearing, Deaf children, and younger Deaf adults, however, is another piece of beautiful Deaf culture.
Manners In the Deaf World
Like any other group of like-minded people there are "rules of engagement" and manners that are necessary to fit-in your keep the respect of the group intact. Such as eye contact during a conversation of sign, how are you supposed to know what's going on and what we are telling you if you aren’t looking! (Ha ha)
Being expressive, body language and othermovements are a cultural necessity, not only do they add to conversation but they are part of our grammar too.
The labels used to describe being Deaf are sometimes misconstrued, hard-of-hearing (some hearing ability) and Deaf (no hearing ability) are regarded as two different terms but Deaf is the correct term for both when unsure of hearing capacities.
Hearing Impaired = NoNo
While hearing impaired is generally not the term you want to use at all in our Deaf culture, as it implies there is something “wrong” with being Deaf and that’s definitely not the case!
Deaf Culture Is Always On the Rise
When we think about sign language we don’t normally address the incredible Deaf culture behind it all. Our Deaf community has a very distinct and unique culture that is all our own.
This is a culture that is constantly thriving, growing, and changing as we make waves with new art, literature, events, and social projects, when practicing sign language be sure to check out some of the classes around you, or look further into the rich history that the Deaf culture provides.