Tuesday, April 19, 2005

MOS(t) DEF - a note to Roddy 

everything below was writting regarding this thread on roddy's blog.

April 16, 2005

todd solondz on america

"Itユs a very damaged place, the country we live in. Its values are incredibly perverse. [...] I think thereユs no place in the world where one can experience isolation and loneliness more profoundly.モ

from LA Weekly magazine.

i was going to say the same thing about japan...until i started hanging out with hearing-impaired japanese kids over here. their world is so isolated, and thru them, i've learned how open things are for me in reality.
Posted by r. at April 17, 2005 09:05 AM

r. that's totally interesting. what IS it like for people who have hearing disabilities in japan? is japanese sign language common?
Posted by roddy at April 18, 2005 12:46 PM

actually, i'm still in the initial stages...my first real encounters with their world. i just have a number of fragmented impressions and very little in the way of a unified 'theory' of how life here really is for them. naturally just the very act of spending time with any group, regardless of their 'disposition', will provide invaluable information...

but then here we come to that old chestnut that nick and i are always going back and forth about...i don't 'speak' sign language at this point, so our 'common' tongue is japanese, but this isn't exactly what it might seem. most my little circle of about 6 DEF friends--my term of endearment for them--can't hear, so they are lip reading MY japanese.

since they can't hear, they can't execute the proper diction in japanese, so i have a great difficulty understanding what they are trying to say sometimes...despite the fact that my listening ability in japanese is acute. since i feel that trying to 'distend' this period of mutual misunderstanding towards the ends of my own pleasure only reflects a kind of mastrubatory, selfish behavior (and what's more, i'm not sure how long my DEF friends would put up with me if they thought even for a minute that i was being anything less than selfless, they are a kind of sensitive 'minority' after all) i have resolved undertake the learning of sign language, and HERE is where things get interesting. they speak two main 'dialects' of sign language in japan. (i'm not sure at this point if 'dialect is the correct word or not.)

most of what i'm about to say was explained to me in japanese by the non-DEF, but 'bilingual' (she speaks her native japanese and has learned to sign since spouse, a japanese man, is hearing impaired) mother of one of my DEF friends, who happens to be one of the most accomplished real-time japanese/sign interpreters in the tokyo metro area. (i'm so lucky to have met her.)

anyway in case of the first 'dialect', the DEF people are THINKING in sign-language (a sign-language that ISN'T derived from American Sign Language) and signing in sign-language. since they can't really hear, they don't try to speak when they sign. the order of the grammar is different than the japanese language. this group is capable of reading and writing in the japanese language, but they approach it as a 'secondary language' and again, when they think, they think in sign-language.

the second group, most of whom have partial hearing, is thinking in japanese, and signing in a kind of 'japanese aligned' sign-language. the order of the grammar is the same as japanese (more or less), and they try to say the japanese, that they are thinking, when they sign.

i have no idea about the populations or demographics of these two groups at this point, other than the fact that the second group seems to be made up of mostly younger generations.

neither of these 'dialects' would be understood by a speaker of American Sign Language, or i should say that some kind of ROUGH understanding might be possible (facial expression plays a HUGE role). offhand, i'd say that a 'mono-lingual' speaker of ASL who came over to japan and tried to sign with these people might be able to make out about 50% of what was happening, but there are some strange issues here.

just like in the japanese spoken language, they 'borrow' words from western language (most english), the same thing happens in Japanese Sign Language. the meaning(s) of these words becomes adapted and twisted and although the gesture may be the same, the meaning wouldn't be able to be communicated even though the ASL person might think "hey, i know that sign! that means 'antlers'!" but it actually means "Osaka" or something like that.

to make matters more complex, recent years have seen the deveoplement (almost spontaneous) of a kind of hybrid between these two major 'dialects'. this was probably caused by parents who spoke the first type of 'dilect' having children, and these children coming more and more into contact with 'non DEF' kids and learning IN japanese, and eventually feeling more comfortable with matching their sign to the spoken language. the opposite situation also exists, i understand.

furthermore, there are (just as in the spoken language) REGIONAL dialects. there is a roughly 'western' sign language in japan, and a roughly 'eastern/tokyo' sign language.

on top of all this, there are some 'sign-language reform movements' that try and standardize the language, usually by importing heavy doses of ASL, and thus disenfranchising BOTH groups, since the new reform movements don't encourage 'bilingual sign-language learing' (i.e. learning ASL and JSL).

NHK, in classic form, picks the most non-controversial of this mix and teaches it on television, which is how i study when i'm at home. of course, when i'm hanging out with my DEF friends (once a week), you might imagine that things are pretty different.

now a few fragmented observations...

1. in japanese sign language, the is a marked absence of POLITE language, HONORIFIC language, and GENDERED language.

2. japanese DEF people have none of the emotional parsimony that normal japanese people have. they tend to wear their heart out on their sleeve so that everyone can understand what they are really thinking and feeling. there is very little 'tatemae' and 'honne'

3. they 'clap' by shaking their hands in the air

4. they do 'kanpai' by, instead of clinking the glasses together, rubbing the hands that are holding the glasses together.

5. they are EXTREMELY sensitive to earthquakes...and also to farting, which they claim to be able to feel thru the tatami mats very easily.

6. their eye-contact is even more intense than american eye contact, but at the same time, more friendly.

7. there isn't much 'slang'

8. there are no 'rejoinders' or 'aitsuchi'...the 'filler' words like 'unnn' or 'heee' or whatever.

9. you can speak in whispers in mixed company by cupping on hand to your chest and 'shielding' the other hand that signs while being blocked from the field of vision of the others. this isn't as rude at it migh seem.

10. i have yet to be 'praised' for learning even rudimentary japanese sign language. i remember when i was taking my first steps in japanese, the japanese would always say things like 'wow, your japanese is SOOO good!' even though it sucked. my DEF friends have, in fact, don't the opposite on occasions, teasing me and reprimanding me to try harder. this is a refreshing change.

11. DEF chicks are SO hot. ("i'm only joking!")

12. they can talk with their mouths full, no problem.

13. they 'draw' kanji in the air a lot, so it is important to know the correct stroke order, otherwise you won't be understood...a special case, indeed, but something that shoots what david was saying about the orthopraxy/doxy of having to learn the correct stroke order of kanji right in the theoretical foot.

14. giving someone the finger means 'brother' in JSL. giving them the double finger means 'brothers'

there are a MILLION, BILLION more things i'd like to say, but i have to go back to my studies now.

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