Advice for posting ASL on youtube

Not fake language related, although, if you are interested in fake languages, the deaf, blind and deaf-blind industries surrounding those communities is chock full of fake language proposals (fake as in constructed).

I am a NERDA (not-even-related-to-a-deaf-adult). I study languages as a hobby. I’m currently studying ASL with my significant other in preparation for baby’s arrival, since in my view, babies are mutes from ages 4months to about 2 years, where they can understand, but can’t speak. It isn’t polite to exclude someone from the conversation so it is incumbent upon me to learn ASL so I can be polite to the new addition to my household. Plus I scheduled to go partially deaf/HoH when I’m 70 like my Dad and Uncle, although they cope by expecting everyone to speak louder rather than signing. And if you are here because you are a hearing parent of a deaf or hard of hearing baby, please learn some ASL and make sure your child learns ASL. I am shocked at how little understanding there is about deafness and the medieval ways that some kids are being raised outside of a language community.

OK, that’s out of the way.

ASL Posting Advice for Youtube
1) So you want to post an ASL song. I recommend marking the SEE (signed, exact English), and PSE (pidgin signed English) as such, or maybe “RBSE” (really bad signed English). If we step away from the world of language, posting an English-y translation of a pop song is like posting a how to cook gourmet food when you are a beginner home cook. It’s presumptuous. Being presumptuous isn’t killing babies, but marking your video as PSL/PSE isn’t a burden. And don’t beat up people who are posting these “ASL” songs, it isn’t nice

2) You need to capture waist to top of head. If you capture only your head, it feels cramped to sign and to watch. Many signs are signed at the hip, so if you aren’t far away enough from the camera, you can’t sign things like pants or Russian (old style). Watch the box– don’t let your hands start signing off screen.

3) Gloss. If you are fluent in ASL and posting subtitles for the hearing, there are two audiences: the people who don’t give a hoot about ASL and want to know what you have to say, and those who are learning ASL and would watch with rapt attention to you discussing how dust accumulates in your apartment. The first set of people will want colloquial, fluid English. The second set of people wants (even if they don’t realize it themselves) a gloss- that is word for word translation, maybe with grammatical markers when the word alone seems to leave things out. Often people see a gloss and think, “Well, duh, that person doesn’t know how to translate, ha ha, I caught him” The jokes on them because glosses are really the best way to feel how a foreign language works. More importantly, it reduced the cognitive burden for learners because they don’t have to keep an entire sentence in their head while waiting for all the parts of the ASL to show up (after having read the full English sentence).

On the otherhand, subtitling is a lot of work and generally you only see it on youtube posts specifically targeting the hearing world, on topics like the importance of teaching ASL to deaf and hard of hearing babies.

4) Framerate. If your webcam turns your sign into blurs, you need to slow down or get a better webcam or better software.

5) Comments and thumbs up/down
Youtube’s comment system seems to encourage the worst that humanity can put forward. Fight the good fight and click thumbs up when you can, don’t fight in the comments and don’t beat up people for being outsiders (i.e. having naive ideas about ASL)

If you are an ASL learner, a surprising source of good material comes from the government feeds, like the CDC has a fantastic series with what is clearly ASL, but it is easy ASL.

Some of the clearly best ASL oration on youtube is so far advanced that all get is that the sense of emotion and gestures are in synch with the language. I watch, but I don’t feel it is a good use of my time.

Watching interpreters on ASL is useful, especially if it is the sort of practice where they listen to someone speak, interpret, speak, interpret, etc. The best interpreters post themselves translating really fast talking speeches, or translating difficult material like legalese, again not a good use of this beginner’s time to watch.

Search words
If you are searching youtube, try Vlog and Vlog ASL, you find more ASL and fewer PSE/SEE songs.

I have a confession. I hate finger spell. Okay I said it. It makes my hands hurt, literally. And it feels like an alien system imbedded in another system. I understand it’s usefulness and that it isn’t going away soon, but I still don’t like it. Let me finger spell the ways:

1) The size of a word is wrong. Smarter people than me study information & encoding– ideally you want to encode information in as few symbols as possible for effiency. Fingerspell is like a 200 letter word in English– it doesn’t need to be that long, after about 10 letters you can pretty much distinguish most words from each other. Signs feel like syllables to me, so finger spelling psychology is like a 10 syllable word. Yuck.
2) Less fluent ASL speakers (usually ASL as a 2nd language) sign more than 10% in finger spell, fluent signers use 10% or less. Maybe they know something?
3) Fingerspell is writing a foreign language in the air. For babies, it isn’t fair to expect them to start spelling so young– it is rare to teach hearing 4 year olds how to read, but somehow it is fair to expect babies to sign Z-O-O?

I don’t mind lexical fingerspell, it tends to be 3-4 characters or less and acts more like sign than a loan word. I actually don’t mind borrowing so much. Calques happen, English itself is something like 70% loan words from old French. What fingerspell feels like is as if I had to switch to C++ or COBOL (the computer programming languages) every ten words when speaking English. Alien, awkward.

So, that said, I hereby swear to learn the signs for everything that has a legal sign and use that instead of fingerspell. My aching wrists will thank me, if no one else will.

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