LINGUIST List 7.1131

Mon Aug 12 1996

Disc: Arabic Sign Language

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1., Arabic Sign Language
  2. Wendy Sandler, (Sign) Language Instinct
  3. Dan&Alysse, ArabicSL

Message 1: Arabic Sign Language

Date: Thu, 08 Aug 1996 15:43:07 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Arabic Sign Language
Re the contribution from (Dave Harris):

>makes so much more sense, though, to teach them ASL so that they'll
>have the ability to communicate with other deaf people outside
>Tunis. Yes, some amount of literacy in Arabic would be nice, but it's
>already such a huge job to teach hearing kids literary Arabic that I
>wouldn't even know where to start in teaching it to deaf kids. Of
>course, they should be able to read signs, maybe newspapers,
>whatever. I believe, however, that it would take a tenth the time to
>teach them to read a novel in English or French than in Arabic.
>I go along with the
>others in saying that ASL/FSL is the answer.

I suspect that many Arabs would consider an attempt at teaching their deaf
fellow citizens a sign language that makes it easier to read a novel in
French or English than to read Arabic some variant of cultural imperialism.

Aside from that, since languages (including ASL/FSL) cannot be culturally
neutral (value free) it seems inappropriate to suggest ASL/FSL as a first
choice for deaf people in any Arabic country. An exisiting and more widely
used sign language from within the Arab world would be more appropriate.
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Message 2: (Sign) Language Instinct

Date: Fri, 09 Aug 1996 10:08:54 +0300
From: Wendy Sandler <>
Subject: (Sign) Language Instinct

re: "Arabic Sign Language"
- -------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 9 Aug 1996 10:04:37 +0300 (WET)
From: (Wendy Sandler)
Subject: (Sign) Language Instinct

I can't stand it any more!!!! All these comments about what to teach the 
deaf people of Tunisia and suggestions about cued speech and ASL or FSL!!

Linguists: give the deaf people of Tunisia and the human brain some 
credit! There are no doubt some sign languages in use there already
(as Chris Miller and others have already pointed out). 
Give the people a chance to congregate regularly and they will 
standardize their own language, probably in a generation! And 
establishing channels for associating with one another will also 
eventually advance their culture and social status.

I relate the following from here (Israel) to make the point. Israeli Sign 
Language is a unified and developed language, though it apparently developed 
as a creole from German SL, Moroccan SL, Polish SL and others in 
something like 50 years. 

In the Arab sector here, the situation is 
apparently far less amenable to the development of a language, since the 
society in that sector has traditionally forbidden marriages between deaf 
people, and deaf women often haven't married at all. With too few 
Arabic-speaking specialized teachers, deaf education is very limited outside 
of big cities. So the school is not a place for deaf children to 
congregate either. 

Yet even under these circumstances, language will out! 

Preliminary investigation in a town with a population of about 80 deaf 
people and a year-old deaf club indicates that deaf people communicate 
freely in what they themselves consider a unified language. They 
actually teach it to others who had previously only used a home sign. 
(They have also resolved to override the ban on marrying other deaf 
people, and at least one such marriage has already taken place.) It is 
possible, even likely, that the language used there is different from 
those used in other towns. (This is all newly begun research.) Whatever 
its stage of development, some sort of language is there, and it only 
needs use and more use.

The best way to promote communication among deaf people is to help them get 
together on a regular basis. To borrow Steven Pinker's title, the language 
instinct will take care of the rest. As for communication with hearing 
people -- well, the hearing people will have to learn the language from 
the deaf people. 

(Peeking out of the ivory tower -- the wise decision in Tunisia to recognize 
the importance of sign language should be applauded!)

Wendy Sandler
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Message 3: ArabicSL

Date: Fri, 09 Aug 1996 07:02:55 EDT
From: Dan&Alysse <>
Subject: ArabicSL
Anyone ever think to ask what the Deaf WANT to learn?

Why not get together with the leaders of the local Deaf communities ... even
if the are spread out all over the place, the Deaf will know who they are
... it's amazing how they network and one of the real "meta-cultural" things
about the Deaf (European & American & Oriental, at least) is that they keep
tabs on each other.

As far as teaching ALS or LSF ... terrific. It's good to be bi-, tri-, or
even poly- lingual. BUT not as a "first" language. Wouldn't that be just
as patronizing as when we force our Deaf children to learn Signed English
WITHOUT the benefit of ASL?

Dust off that old book by Samarin (Field Linguistics) and do it the hard
way. It would be the least restrictive, the least patronizing, and the most
productive in terms of creating awareness of the local language ... not to
mention giving you a "body of research" for the rest of your life :-)

Alysse Rasmussen ... from a just right of Deaf point of view :-)
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