Stickers made by Vivid Expressions –
In a few days time I will be 46 years old and I have been signing for almost 40 years.
Does that make me a native signer? Here are some example of what ‘native’ means.
Definition of Native: (Found via online dictionary) Being the place or environment in which a person was born or a thing came into being. Belonging to a person by birth or to a thing by nature. Belonging by birth to a people regarded as indigenous to a certain place, especially a preliterate people. Relating to a language acquired by a person before or to the exclusion of any other language.
My first type of communication was sign language, I do not remember what type of signing it was but I do recall that I did used some some BSL (Britain Sign Language). I was exposed to signing when I was first diagnosed deaf and at my first Deaf school from the time I was 3 years old till I was about 7 years old…. then I was deprived of that language for 7 years.
I was placed into a foreign world of spoken language… and it was not natural to me. I had no connection to that, nor it was my language and it left me with no purpose.
When I was 14 I took back my original and most preferred language… that was and still is signing.
For 7 years I was using speech/auditory and for 39 years I was using sign language…
So what am I? a native signer? or just a person who actually knows how to sign very well? or just an oral deaf with a good knowledge of signing?
In fact I do not see myself as an oral deaf and never have, never will. Even I do have exceptional speech yet I have absolutely no hearing and my whatever speech I have now is a tool… not a language.
I remember when I was a very young adult, I have been told many times “Sorry you are not a native signer” … and to be told that statement actually hurts. Like a knife stabbing me in the heart. Just stabbed and stabbed.
Made me feel lesser than a human being.
Left me wondering why I wasn’t ‘good enough’.
Today, sometimes I still asked myself “What am I?… Do they still see me as a non-native signer?”… Despite how many years I have been signing.
Why am I writing about this? what does being a native signer got to do with anything?
Well, I am writing this because I have 4 children, 3 of my children are deaf and 1 is hearing. I see my children as my children. I haven’t really consider that terminology ‘native’ about my children.
I don’t want to because I will always remembered what it felt like to be told that I am not a ‘native’ by experienced, well known people who came from a long line of Deaf generations AND people who grew up signing only whether they have deaf relatives or not.
I do not want any ‘labelling’ or ‘stereotyping’ among my children, I do not want them to feel that there is a ‘need’ to be something to get recognition or gain a ‘celebrity entry’ to be a somebody in the Deaf Community.
There are many ‘wannabes’ who thinks they know more than us especially about sign language. I do not want my children to grow up and have that attitude.
Auslan, Australian Sign Language is my pride and joy, my language, my most preferred mode of communication … and I do get very pissed off when people spell it wrong e.g. AUSLAN instead of Auslan…
Auslan should never be spelt with full capital letters. Auslan is the name of the Australian Deaf Community’s language. Actually, it is common sense because no one really writes or spell French as FRENCH or Japanese as JAPANESE.
The definition of Auslan as found on Deaf Australia’s old website: http://www.deafau.org.au/info/auslan5.php
Auslan is the sign language of the Australian Deaf community. The name Auslan (from Australian sign language) was coined by Trevor Johnston, author of the first Auslan dictionary, in the early 1980s but the language itself is much older.
The name is written as Auslan, not AUSLAN.
Auslan has evolved from the sign languages brought to Australia during the nineteenth century from Britain and Ireland. Its grammar and vocabulary is different from English. It is not the creation of any one person. It is a natural language that has developed over time.
Auslan is the primary or preferred language of the majority of Deaf people who have been severely or profoundly deaf since early childhood.
It is the native language (i.e., the language acquired from birth) of only a minority of Deaf signers. Deaf children who are born to Deaf parents who use Auslan appear to acquire Auslan in the same way as hearing children acquire spoken language from their parents and other family members.
However, for most adults in the Deaf community, Auslan is acquired either as a (possibly delayed) first language at some time during their school years, or as a second language in later life.
Thus an important difference between Deaf communities and other linguistic minorities is that, in most cases, the language is not passed on from parent to child, but often from child to child, or is learned by children from adults outside the family. Some Deaf people also learn Auslan as a late-acquired language in early adulthood.
Auslan was recognised by the Australian government as a “community language other than English” and the preferred language of the Deaf community in policy statements in 1987 and 1991.
Auslan exists in a complex linguistic environment and there are different forms of signing which are used in different social situations. However, not all of the signing behaviour that one may observe individuals engaging in is properly characterised as “Auslan”. Rather, several distinct varieties of signed languages exist within the community.
Auslan is the Australian Sign Language. It is NOT QLDslan, Vicslan, NSWslan, WAslan, NTslan, Tasslan, ACTslan nor SAslan.
There are no such thing as QLDslan… nor Vicslan or any other ‘slan’ as mentioned above. There isn’t!. Unless you can prove it that there are such a thing.
Auslan does have dialects – Northern and Southern dialects, they are no longer common these days. Auslan does have restricted signs, state signs, church signs, school signs…. Yet they all fall under one name and that is Auslan.
I take my hat off to Trevor Johnson and Adam Schembri for their hard work and doing all the research our language. Without Trevor and Nola Colefax, we would never gotten the name Auslan nor the recognition of our language today.
And of course, I take my hat off to many people who have followed their footsteps to continue the work, to spread awareness and to encourage Auslan to be seen and used as the Deaf Community’s language.
I do not like it when people, any person to say “That sign is WRONG” “We must use this sign” “This is the QLD sign” “That is the SA sign” “Because we live in NSW we must use this sign” “No one uses that sign” “That sign is stupid”…
Seriously! It drives me nuts… makes me feel like screaming F%#$.
AND I do NOT like it when a person tells a deaf child…. especially a deaf child who uses Auslan from birth at home… to tell that child not to use THAT sign or forces the child to change from his/her preferred sign to the sign THEY prefer.
Because it is in their ‘books’… their sign is right and that child’s sign is wrong.
Because it is in their ‘books’ … they think they know better than the parents or the child.
Because it is in their ‘books’… that child must use their state’s signs like ‘QLDslan’ or ‘Vicslan’ .
Because it is in their ‘books’… they believe it is in their role to be the better role model to demonstrated the ‘appropriate sign’.
I have seen this happened with my own eyes. Not just today, nor yesterday but for more than 30 years.
AND it is still happening TODAY! why?
Let me ask you this question.
Who owns the language, Auslan?
Who makes the decisions to say this or that sign can only be used here or there?
Who does have the authority to tell a deaf person or a deaf child that their sign is wrong?
Who decides what is appropriated to use which signs in a specific setting? e.g. education.
Oh hold on, this is the fun part… let me answer the questions for you, easily. The answer is simple.
NO ONE does!.
No one owns the language, Auslan. Because it does belongs to the Australian Deaf Community.
No one makes any decisions to say we must use this or that sign. No one… honestly NO ONE. Because there are no Auslaner God.
No one got ANY authority to tell another deaf person or deaf child that their sign is WRONG. Because no one knows 100% Auslan.
No one got any rights to say we must use this or that sign. Because it is seen as appropriated.
So if I want to use the one of the old signs that was used in Victoria and NSW for many years – PARTY (both ‘spread handshape’ side by side at the hip to demonstrate a full flowing dress) here in QLD.. I will because no one can tell me or my children that the sign we use is wrong.
Because it is NOT wrong… in fact it is one of the oldest signs. And that sign has been handed down by many generations of Deaf.
Of course, many people have never seen that sign and yes, they will look at us baffled… yet the appropriate way to ask is “what does that sign mean?” instead of “That sign is wrong, no one uses that sign. You must not use that sign”.
One of my children often uses fingerspelling and he has been asked by people outside the family many times to stop fingerspelling and use more signing.
No one got the rights to tell him that. If he want to finger spell then he will and if that somebody doesn’t like it then that somebody can piss off. After all it is HIS language too.
Because my son has been signing since birth and my son is autistic… he does not see the world the way we do. He does not see things visually. Even he is deaf… he still struggles with using visual cues of Auslan.
It does not mean he is a crappy signer and no one can tell him that he is NOT a native signer. In fact many people still use fingerspelling and it is one of the truest form of sign language.
One of my other children uses a lot of old and new signs (a mixture of her father’s signs from his birth town, Victoria and my signing from ACT and NSW) her signs are beautiful and makes her as she is.
No one can tell her she cannot use this or that sign because no one else has seen it or uses it elsewhere.
Thankfully my children are old enough to know the difference and they can make their own decision on what signs they want to use. Of course, they will not stupidly make up some ransom idiotic signs just for the fun of it….
They do have their heads screwed on right and with ample of common senses. So does many other deaf children.
The only time to interfere and to analyse the appropriate uses of signs is when somebody is using signs that does not have any concepts or meaning to a word. Yet again, we have to be careful because NO ONE knows 100% Auslan. Research first, ask first, check first!… not to one person but many.
Not one soul in the world knows 100% Auslan. Zilch.
We have evolved so much over time and today Auslan had transformed vastly compared to what it was 30 years ago.
More Auslaners have moved from one state to another, from one school to another, from one family to another, from one religion to another, from one country to another…..
A mixture of Auslan is being used everywhere and people are borrowing signs from each other and another country.
BUT what people are forgetting here today is that we are starting to lose the true meaning of the Auslan concept. One time I was told ‘Did you know that turtles lay eggs’ (‘spoon handshape’ with ‘fist handshape’)
First of all the sign EGG as described above means ‘Boiled egg, ready to break the shell to eat the egg’ … Turtles does not lay ‘boiled eggs’ Turtles actually lay E G G S. EGG is actually fingerspelt.
Another example – ‘You must check (‘four handshape’ downwards and sideways) your bag for the car keys’. Again the sign CHECK described means ‘something that is striped’ I don’t actually CHECK (something striped) my bag for the car keys… I actually CHECK (‘I love you handshape’ downward from the eye) to see if I have the car keys.
One more example – ‘I have 4 sons (‘Okay handshape’ touching top of hand going downwards). Reality… the sign SON using the ‘Okay handshape’ actually is the sign for Jesus.
And there is only one.. ONE Jesus. I am talking about God’s son… not anyone else’s sons named Jesus.
The sign for son should be either using ‘S’ letter of the alphabet, or finger spell S O N or using the sign BOY.
This is happening today because we all are arguing about who is right and wrong. We all assumed we know everything about Auslan when we really don’t. And we all are scared of saying something.
And that is sad because Auslan wasn’t something created from a cartoon show. Auslan is the true and purest language of the Australian Deaf Community.
Yet many of us are misusing Auslan inappropriately.
Many community and accredited Auslan courses are teaching Auslan in a way that must be followed as according to written programs, policies, instructions and what’s nots under their organisations.
It is sad to watch the people teaching signs with grimaces splattered across their faces because deep down they knew some of the signs they are teaching are used inappropriately.
Deep down they know they have no say nor the strength to stand up for the rights of Auslan, The Deaf Community… all because of…
Fear of losing their job. A chance to gain more work. A chance to be that ‘somebody’ in the Deaf Community.
Teamwork is now a word that are often seen as a mockery. ‘One man show’ is happening everywhere.
Less people have grown the balls to say ‘Sorry but can we discuss why this sign must be used? please explain to me why I must use this sign?’
More people are now saying ‘Sorry you must use this sign because it is instructed as according to the policy/teaching material/upper department/the team’
STOP! what happened to respecting each other values and knowledge?
I didn’t just study Diploma of Auslan, Certificate IV in Auslan Teaching, Deaf Studies, Deaf Information workshops, some university blocks and participated in many Auslan/Deaf related activities just for the fun of it.
No I studied to understand Auslan to a deeper depth, to be aware of what/how Auslan is used and to respect my most purest and truest language.
Today I still make mistakes, yep… today I still, sometimes flipped to ‘Signed English’… today I still, sometimes sign in English structure…
AND I am not the only one.
Yes many of us are using signs that are ‘unheard of’, made up, Signed English, signs without the right meaning, inappropriate signs…. AND there is a better way to deal with that.
A better way to overcome this massive mess.
We need to stop putting each other down, we need to stop acting like we ‘know better’, we need to stop telling deaf children what signs to use and what they cannot use… especially little 5 year olds from a deaf family or a family who uses Auslan to the fullest.
We need to stop belittling each other.
We need to stand up and shout ‘STOP’ lets do this properly and with respect.
Lets reteach each other that there are NO QLDslan, Vicslan, NSWslan, SAslan, WAslan, NTslan, ACTslan, Tasslan.
And that there are no rules to why a deaf person or a deaf child cannot use that specific sign. Unless proven otherwise.
After all Auslan is in fact a rich…. a very rich visual, creative, arty, sexy and beautiful language.
With more passion and understanding… Auslan will consumes you in a way you never could imagine…. in a good way.
Please, if you work with a deaf child or a deaf adult or teaching Auslan even if you know “so much about Auslan” … remember you do not know 100% Auslan.
Remember that a deaf child using Auslan at home needs to have that ‘ownership’ of their language. Need to feel safe and free to use their preferred signs without harsh judgement. Need to be able to grow and learn with encouragement and love. Need to feel that pride and joy of having the most beautiful language of them all.
You were that child once too.
p.s. Yes I know there are so many idiotic signs out there… yet I am writing about real deaf people, real deaf children who are using real Auslan.