Log in

No account? Create an account
A Taste for Ideas
20 most recent entries

Date:2008-06-05 12:03
Subject:AVT, ASL, and definitions

Musings on this -- AVT seems to forbid the use of ASL. ASL-using D/deaf people are annoyed at this. People whose kids use AVT are insisting that their kids are fine without ASL, so it's not needed; this is very different from saying that ASL damaged kids and so should be forbidden.

It all seems to come down to the fact that ASL either does or does not damage kids. If it does, then prove it. If it doesn't, then there just isn't a reason to ban it, and apparently, AVT requires the banning of ASL. (English language schools work for hearing kids -- those kids do fine without Swahili or Breton, too. So let's ban Swahili and Breton. Does this make sense? Just because a kid does fine without something is not an argument in favor of erasing it from the Earth.)

If the going-with-ears-and-mouth part of AVT works fine for some kids, that is not by itself an argument in favor of the banning-ASL part of AVT. The question is, would the inclusion of ASL have caused those kids to not do as well?

If this is not the case, and adding in ASL does not cause those kids' language acquisition to drop, then include it. It won't hurt the kids who don't need it (and may help; bilingualism is routinely demonstrated to increase intelligence) and the kids who do need it will be damned happy to have it there.

That seems to be it. That really just does. This is not complicated. Demonstrate that ASL damages kids' spoken language acquisition, or do not. If it doesn't, then there is absolutely no reason to ban it.

There really seems to be a strange way of thinking about these things sometimes. People who advocate for CIs (not CI users, but CI advocates) stress that if it's done early, it will cause natural language acquisition, but then follow it up by saying that without intensive AVT and a total absence of signed language, the kid will slip back into deafness, or something. That doesn't sound very natural. CODAs learn both with no problem.

Some kids will be able to acquire spoken language. Some will not. If ASL does not harm the first group, then include it. It does no damage to the first group and it is a huge boon to the second. Banning it will not harm the first group but will enormously harm the second.

That seems fairly straightforward to me. The question is whether or not simple exposure to ASL will cause a kid in Group 1 to slide over into Group 2. Unless this can be demonstrated (and there does seem to be a lot of data to the contrary), then do not ban ASL from CI-using kids.

That really does seem to be pretty much it. No emotions, no "I'm a parent and I know everything in my child's best interest!" No "CI users are nazis." None of that.

Either ASL damages the spoken language acquisition of a kid, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then do not ban it. QED.

2 comments | post a comment

Date:2008-05-27 15:30
Subject:Speaking, signing, and the relative advantages of these modalities

Since the SW, I've been doing a bit of a mental compare/contrast between signed and spoken languages occasioned by learning that one of the instructors there, a man who works at the CSD in Riverside (I believe) grew up using SEE and took to ASL like a duck to water when he was exposed to it.

I began mulling the relative uses of different modes of communicating, and ran into Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research: Psychology on books.google.com, all hail. :-) The chapter by one of the various Deaf professorial Supallas scattered around the globe was particularly interesting, as he examined the ways that little kids exposed to SEE2 end up using it in light of its modality (spatial versus linear).

I just found it interesting since I was thinking in some depth on this during my drive into work this morning, how the advantages of spoken languages are almost entirely ergonomic (and significant) whereas signed languages have the advantages in terms of actual communication -- precision and clarity.

Plainly put, spoken languages have ergonomic advantages because you can whisper, you can communicate in the dark, and you can communicate around corners (no sight line is needed). Also, you can communicate while using your hands for other things. I do consider that humans prefer to communicate with our mouths for the same reason dogs pick up tennis balls with their mouths: the front limbs are busy. For the dog, they're busy walking on them. For humans, we're doing other things with them and using our mouths to talk frees them up.

Signed languages, however, have structural advantages that only become obvious when you consider that spoken languages all have a highly specialized, circumscribed set of words used for nothing but placing things and events relative to one another in time and space: prepositions. Above, below, etc. I've talked about this before. Signed languages don't need such jerryrigging for that, since they have full three-dimensional space to play with. Because of this, prepositions are often gone entirely from ASL or else their function is altered radically. So while signed languages have ergonomic disadvantages, they are superior in terms of how they structure and prsent information, while spoken languages need the jerryrigging of prepositions. (Just speaking generally here; this isn't a thesis or anything.)

The problem with modalities like SEE is that they lose the ergonomic advantages of spoken language while gaining none of the advantages of signing. They lift English out of the modality that allows for it to be whispered or understood in the dark, and they plop it down in three-dimensional space, while not taking advantage of the structural opportunities that 3D offers. It's lose-lose. It's just the wrong modality for spoken language. The appropriate visual modality for speaking isn't signing, it's writing.

If you're going to move language into 3D, then just do it all the way. If you have three dimensions to play around in, then just use them. And Chapter 5 in that book indicates that this may be neurologically inevitable in natural language development. Removing spatial grammaticization from signed languages may well be like removing prosody or intonation from spoken languages; you can't do it.

Languages are fluid in more ways than we usually consider them to be; they're actually gaseous in that they expand to fill the space in which they are placed. Spoken languages have rhythm and intonation to play with, so they make use of it. Signed languages have spatial grammar to play with, so they make use of that.

post a comment

Date:2008-05-26 17:35
Subject:Deaf culture, men, music, CIs

Just a few observations from the Silent Weekend at the Rennie's this past weekend:

1) It's continually interesting to me how these things overwhelmingly consist of Deaf men and hearing women. Deaf culture is the only one so far that I've seen where a good chunk of the cultural outreach is done by men. I'm not saying that Deaf women don't, and I've seen many online that work diligently to support their community. It just seems like a lot of the outreach to the hearing community is done by Deaf men, at least far more than I'd expect of hearing men doing any sort of cultural outreach. I am not at all used to seeing men of any stripe doing the grunt work of outreach beyond their cultures. Deaf culture is so far interesting in that way. Perhaps Deaf women concentrate their support internally, whereas the "ambassadorial" work is done by men. But nevertheless, it's interesting to me how the Deaf men I'm encountering are often involved in teaching, child work, hands-on preaching, that sort of thing, very nurturing work. Traditionally women's work.

Of course, it's not all of them, but there's a far higher percentage than you'd find in the hearing world of men in caretaking professions. Even one interpreting mom's sons were happy to do kitchen work and cleanup, two charming young boys. (And her hearing daughter as well -- but I'm just not used to seeing any teen boys doing kitchen detail without being nagged unmercifully into it, and without doing it sullenly.) Perhaps the cultural consequences of being deaf are much like the cultural consequences of being female (being assumed to be stupid, having people talk down to you, assume you can't contribute, etc.).

I can't make the assumption that all people of any culture are angels, and I'm not making that now. Right now, this is just a general observation that Deaf culture appears to have more than its share of outreach-oriented and caretaking men relative to any hearing culture I'm aware of. It's a self-selecting group, and I'm aware of that -- but I don't think you'd be finding any men in a hearing environment like that (if I can think of an analogous environment, I'll let you know), whereas this weekend, there were several Deaf men in the role of patient, semi-parental volunteer instructor.

2) Geographic fragmentation and educational oppression appear to have a lot to do with the ability of a language to innovate and vary widely. Welsh does the same thing -- there are dozens of words for some simple things, all geographically dependent -- and they have been fragmented (for some different reasons than ASL) and oppressed linguistically (for some similar reasons as ASL).

3) I feel a little audist for my reaction to learning that one of the young Deaf boys that were so helpful at the weekend had gotten a CI only three weeks prior. I'm still ambivalent about them although I'm also eager to obtain more information; when I say more information, I mean hard, nasty, crunchy medical details, not pamphlets. However, one of the young girls there who was learning ASL to interpret asked him what he thought of music, and I can't even think of that question without getting a bit teary. He's only been mapped for a week, so he's got a lot to get used to; the way he put it was that he was a one-week old baby in terms of his hearing.

However, his answer was an immediate, "It's amazing. Amazing." It was rather funny when he stated that some music left him completely cold, thinking to himself, "That's music?! That sounds awful!" The hearing people in the room laughed and assured him that plenty hearing folks thought the same thing when he heard certain kinds of music.

Nevertheless, it still amazes me to think of someone apprehending music for the first time. As a hearing person with unusually (and occasionally uncomfortably) sensitive ears, music is hypnotic for me. Transcendent. It's the case for many hearing people; it's why we're so damned addicted to the stuff. I don't know if that makes me audist; it sounds terribly patronizing to sniffle like that when hearing of a Deaf person who can suddenly appreciate music, and I don't care for that. However, as a hearing person, I can't help it. My gut makes me sniffle when I think of someone able to enjoy music. Now, I felt the same way when I first saw a "Flying Words" poetry performance online; my chest felt tight when I first watched it. I don't know if that equivalence makes it "okay," nor do I want to excuse my reaction so much as understand it. But still. He heard music.

post a comment

Date:2007-08-02 17:11
Subject:Now, THIS is interesting.


Although I still do feel that the whole issue lies in "the mouth speaks because the hands are occupied" thing. But this is a lot richer vein than the "Koko the gorilla" end of things, which I have to say I discount almost entirely.

This seems like a richer source of genuine information only because the animals appear to be generating this behavior themselves, and because no one is calling it "language" or "near-language" or "primitive language" or "linguistic" at all. It's simply "use of the front legs to communicate something."

Again though -- this is prompted by the behavior of a linguistics species -- namely, us. I'd have to see it in the wild to be entirely convinced that there is truly something worth examining in real depth. We manage to get behaviors out of social animals that seem a far cry from what they do normally, where you have to squint at the behavior and use a hell of a lot of interpreting to see how it relates to anything the animal's instincts compel it to. (In other words, there is a fine line between managing to explain a Labrador Retriever dragging fishing nets out of ice-cold water as a reshaping of a "natural behavior" and a Just-So Story.)

Nevertheless, this is more interesting to me than Koko.

We'd need to see this behavior spontaneously generated in the wild in order for it to be truly persuasive, though. Simply put, if the animals don't stumble on it themselves and must be triggered from the outside, then it isn't entirely contained in their potential to start with, unlike humans.

So -- orangutans prompted to use gesture to get a human to give them a banana? Mm, okay.

Orangutans prompted to use gesture by another orangutan, where they settle on the gestures' meanings themselves, as cetaceans have done with their own communication methods? Now, that's data. But until then, it's just not a clincher. At all.

3 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-07-27 19:32
Subject:Combination hearing aid and CI

Found out about this at Michael Chorost's blog:


I think I may explode if I don't learn more about these RIGHT NOW.

2 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-07-26 14:31
Subject:General comments on the misuse of logic and science by people who grasp neither

Just some quick comments on this, occasioned by my previous post.

It really bothers me when people (like the oralists, but they are only one of a very widely scattered, numerous type) grotesquely misuse scientific conclusions and methods. It bothers me because, when considered carefully, science will just about always help to illuminate damned near anything.

But when you are dealing with people who aren't that logical, who have strong, emotional reasons for wanting their damaging preexisting prejudices supported, they will take up something like natural selection (or any scientific model) and immediately find a way to misunderstand it in such a way as to justify their own emotionally based nonsense.

Thus, other people on the receiving end of this damage will often conclude Science Is Evil! Logic Is Bad! Emotion Is Better! They will end up with a distaste for the scientific method and even whole models (evolution, for example) because stupid people on the other side of the fence have used their own poorly understood misconceptions of that model to bludgeon their chosen have-nots over the head with it.

When people want to reach an emotionally based conclusion (and I suppose I'm as prone to this as anyone but I at least try to keep an eye out for it and call it when I see it), they will pick up and pervert anything to support it. Even a scientific concept that, on the face of it, blows their prejudice out of the water can be used as a buttress if the people in question are determined enough.

It's really bothersome for me as a person trained as a hard scientist because I do truly adore science; all it is is a way of considering questions that tends to result in good, provable, useful information that can be extended. That's pretty much it. That's all science is: a way of asking questions.

And small-minded or prejudiced or intolerant people, going on pure limbic-system emotion, will claim the mantle of impartiality(!!!!!) for themselves, pick up this wonderful instrument, and proceed to batter other people with it for absolutely unsupportable reasons!

Then, those other people wind up with an enormous distaste, not for the stupidity of their enemies, but for "science." They listen to these misbegotten perversions of darwinism and imagine that their enemies are speaking rationally, and that natural selection does indeed plummet them to the bottom of the Great Chain of Being. They then reject not the intolerance of their enemies but the science itself -- even when the science, properly considered, says nothing of the sort!

Argh. Anyhow.

post a comment

Date:2007-07-26 13:27
Subject:More on the misuse of Darwinism and natural selection

Am rereading bits of browneyedgirl65's book which she lent me: "Forbidden Signs." Can't link to it at the moment because I'm on a text browser, but a quick search will pull it up. Douglas Baynton(?) is the author -- a very good book. Very meticulous and thorough, and far broader than I'd anticipated in terms of both gender and ethnicity, which was a delightful surprise.

And of course, he quotes many oralists from the early part of the 20th century waxing incoherent about the relative merits of signing and speech based on a radical misunderstanding of natural selection and its drivers.

The strange thing to me, which occurred to me in the car on the way to work (it's over an hour one way, so I have plenty of time to mull while I crawl forward inch by stinking inch), is the persistent opinion that speech is younger than signing and therefore more "evolved" and superior. While I was driving in, it struck me for the first time that this is completely incorrect. Signing is younger than speech. I'm not even going to qualify that with a "maybe"; it simply cannot be the case that signs came first. Why?

Humans evolved from four-footed mammals, for pete's sake. Until we became bipedal, signing was not an option, and bipedal locomotion is a relative newcomer. Humans are really it among higher mammals, and while some other primates can walk bipedally for short periods of time, they really do prefer knuckle-walking. That doesn't exactly leave one's hands free to pontificate. We communicate with our mouths for the same reason dogs pick up tennis balls with their mouths; the front limbs were/are busy.

Simply put, as long as the animal wasn't eating at that moment, the mouth was free. The front limbs were not. That left the mouth free first, and allowed for the evolution of speech. Humans do not speak because we sprang fully formed onto the surface of the Earth and made a conscious choice between hands and mouth; we speak because we evolved from four-footed mammals whose front limbs weren't free to do anything but support weight. Sure, they became free later, but by that time, evolutionary inertia had already optimized our airway for noisemaking. Wings would help me with my daily commute, but they don't just spring out of my back because they'd be nice. Evolution must work with what it has -- and by the time humans stood upright, we had airways that were optimized for noise.

Thus, we took the path of speech as the default not because speech and signs started out equally likely, two runners on a starting block in the common misconception of natural selection, only one was inherently better. We chose speech as our default because there was already several million years of evolutionary inertia behind mouth noises, whereas the free use of the front limbs was relatively new.

Now, this flies in the face of the old oralists because it demonstrates that signs are newer than speech. Hence, using their own misconception of evolution, that indicates that signs are more evolved. Now, in reality, they aren't. Language is language is language. But if the oralists were going to misuse natural selection, not only were they misusing it but they were also doing so inconsistently, even by their own rules!

Signing is newer than speech. If "new" means "more evolved" or "more advanced" (which it doesn't but bear with me), then the oralists should have been in favor of signing. Not only did they lack a clue about natural selection, but the tattered, threadbare clue that they did have wasn't even used correctly.

And again, in reality -- language is language. Speech, signs, whatever. It's all just linguistic data. There is no such thing as a language that is "more" or "less" evolved than another; every single human alive reinvents language anew for itself as a baby. All of it -- language is precisely as young as the youngest baby on Earth at all times, no matter its modality.

7 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-07-23 16:26
Subject:Interesting link from UCLA about mirror neurons

They examined non-linguistic "gestures," if there can be said to be such a thing, and I may rethink that phrasing:


The reason why I'm linking this here is related to what I've said before about perception of accents; I don't know if I'm overgeneralizing from myself here, but this study may actually not be demonstrating what the researchers imagine it to be demonstrating.

The study seemed to indicate to the researchers that people's mirror neurons (or something) caused them to identify less with the Nicaraguan subject. "It appears that neural systems supporting memory, empathy and general cognition encode information differently depending on who's giving the information . a member of one's own cultural or ethnic in-group or a member of an out-group."

I think something else may be going on, and I wish I could see videos of the two people performing the gestures. I think there is a point at which an observer can tell if a person is making a gesture that has meaning to the gesturer -- and not just to the observer.

In other words, the reason why the test subjects reacted more strongly to the American (although I have no clue how they told the subjects which was the American and which the Nicaraguan; in LA, you need to be told this) is because they saw in that person's body language that the gestures had meaning to that person. Therefore, the viewers felt that meaning.

For the Nicaraguan making American gestures, the viewers may simply have been able to tell that this person was making a gesture that had little to no meaning for that person, and so they didn't react to it. Who among us react strongly when a baby inadvertently raises its middle finger? We know that it has no meaning to the baby, so it has no meaning to us.

In other words, the observers' mirror neurons may be firing away just as happily in response to the Nicaraguan subject; they sense through his/her body language that the American gestures have no meaning for them, so identifying with the Nicaraguan, the gestures promptly have no meaning to the viewer, and there's less neural activity as a consequence.

I don't know. I think there's definitely a strong likelihood that the observers are simply identifying with the "American" (I strongly suspect they meant "with the white person" although they didn't put it that way, though) because the observers may have been white themselves. That's the implication anyway. It would be interesting to try this with a fully multiethnic and dual-gender group of gesturers and observers and see how it goes. I have a depressing suspicion that all observers, no matter what, will identify with the white male only because through an endless barrage of books, TV shows, and movies with them as protagonists, we've been forced to learn to identify with them, whereas white men have not had to identify with anyone but themselves unless they watch blaxploitation movies or chick flicks. I think a black man or a white woman would identify strongly with a white male making gestures after a lifetime of watching Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk, Marcus Welby, Walter Cronkite ... *sigh*

Hm. I anticipated this would spin off into a consideration of signed languages and the perception of meaning on the part of the gesturer, by the observer, but it seems to have gone in a different direction.

Anyhow, it would still be interesting (and by "interesting" I mean "probably really depressing") to try this study with a two-column matrix: male/female, black/white. I'd predict a very hierarchical identification where everyone identifies with the white man, everyone but white men identify with a black man, all women identify with white women, and only other black women identify with black women. :-(

It would also be interesting to try this with only deaf people, and with deaf and hearing gesturers and deaf and hearing observers. Can a hearing person tell a native/fluent signer making a gesture from a non-signer parroting a gesture which, to them, has no meaning?

3 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-07-23 11:32
Subject:There will always be deafness; there will always be signed languages.

Still thinking about this -- and I keep coming around to the inescapable conclusion that there will always be deafness and signed languages. I just can't avoid it. Maybe it's easy for me since I don't really want to; I dislike the idea of any minority language vanishing with a whole-body shudder. But I just cannot avoid coming to that conclusion.

Historically, think about it. Languages develop on a time-scale of centuries. Technology? Decades, even medical technology. And every single instance of people proposing the eradication of deafness, this is ignored and forgotten.

The Romans had to worry about cholera relatively rarely. They couldn't have imagined cholera outbreaks on the scale of those that happened a thousand years later. But ... that was the future! Isn't technological progress inevitable? If you asked your average Roman whether people would still be dying or Disease XYZ in The Future, they might have scoffed and said, "Of course not!" They were wrong -- because the only thing we can say about technological and medical advances, and cultural advances, is that they are impermanent.

Now, this seem on the surface to be a "yeah yeah, sure" moment, but this is in fact the kernel of the entire issue: there is no such thing as inevitable technological progress. Humans have never experienced an inevitable progress, a constant slope upward, or even a plateau. Millennia of highly advanced cultures in Rome, Greece, and Egypt meant nothing when the time came for Europe to turn into the Land Of Smelly Disease-Ridden Apes Sticking Each Other With Knives, a.k.a. the dark ages. Technology changes on the order of decades; these changes occur on the order of centuries. The same time-scale in which languages develop and change.

ASL is relatively young; over a century old. The industrial revolution is similarly young. And so we witness these two things and imagine that they are on similar time-scales. They aren't.

Even nowdays, we have the MMR vaccine. Hooray. That and DNA testing will make deafness A Thing Of The Past.

Until a reason comes up for people not to get their kids vaccinated -- the autism/thimerosal scare. Until the government destabilizes (governments always destabilize; the US will not exist in several hundred years time) and centralized vaccination vanishes. Until the overprescription of antibiotics means that kids aren't deaf from rubella but are instead deafened by untreatable ear infections.

It's very easy to say, "Technology will make deafness nonexistent." Except for the inevitable rise and fall of human culture and technology. "Oh well, yeah, there's that." Yes, there is. And there always will be. Imagining otherwise is like planning your life as if you were immortal. Well, you'll die someday, okay, yes.

Indeed you will. Period. Non-negotiable.

Human culture rises and falls, as does human technology. The simple fact, inescapable, is that as lnog as we have bodies, things can go wrong with them. Period. We've vanquished a lot of illnesses particular to specific body parts. Do they still fail? Yes, in every single instance. There is not a single body part the failure of which did not kill Cro-Magnon cave dwellers that does not fail for us. Every single body part that could kick up a fuss for a Neolithic cave-dweller still causes up trouble right now in 2007. The same will be the case with ears.

On the time-scale of language evolution, the existence of deaf people is positively inevitable. Brushing off the inevitability of technological peaks and valleys as an Nth order correction is a grave error.

There will always be deaf people, and there will always be signed languages. Now, maybe not ASL. That may evolve like Latin and Sanskrit, or die out like Cumbric and Palenquero. Hell, it may be later revived, like Hebrew and Cornish. But, if you're talking about:

1) language evolution, and
2) technologically dependent medical issues,

you must think in terms of centuries in both cases. The relatively robust technology enjoyed by Romans and Egyptians (relatively) was not a patch on the technological disaster of the dark ages. Things come and go.

4 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-07-22 16:44
Subject:Yet another excellent silent weekend w/BEG

Read more here.

Some general observations:

1) Again, the gender imbalance was in force -- more women than men, but definitely some men, most of whom with a few exceptions were deaf themselves.

2) Silicone earplugs == excellent idea. I hate reading a Welsh newspaper when I'm listening to English-lyrics music, and hearing even small amounts of chatter in English in the background, even among camp staff, can be distracting.

3) I really need to learn to snore. That way, I can sleep blissfully and keep everyone else awake. :-<

4) Big Bear is lovely this time of year! And BEG and I found an adorably twee little tea house with the best teas, cute little soaps, twee little tea sets, and rather good food. Not cheap, but not insanely priced and still quite good. The hot apple dumpling belonged in the Louvre; it was a work of art. And I came back with a tea-for-one, three soaps, and two little bags of fabulous flavored tea.

5) There was another person there who was born-deaf-raised-oral-sick-of-going-huh who was learning ASL for that reason. Very pleasant guy, engineering background. Bilat CIs (I think), but (I think) he wore only one habitually since the other didn't do much for him. He characterized them as "*shrug* They help, a little."

6) A potentially interesting deaf panel that, IMO, ran off the rails a bit; BEG said that the same thing happened at the first deaf panel at the last silent weekend we went to at Tehachapi. Namely, there was one hearing parent on the panel who ended up doing 95% of the talking. In both cases, they were very motivated, very informed, pro-Deaf women, but ... well, if you put someone up there who is used to standing on a soapbox and being an advocate for Deaf people (her kids), she will end up taking on the "spokesmom" role.

She was a marvelously dedicated woman, informed, worked as a terp as well, so she had valuable things to say, but the panel ended up being one hearing person talking while the questions became increasingly spoken, and the Deaf panelists just sort of sat back and didn't participate. I think those panels should be broken up into panels for parents of D/deaf kids, and DEAF PEOPLE. A deaf panel should have only deaf people on it, IMO. Otherwise, that balance ends up tipping the wrong way with all the best intentions in the world ... and you end up with spoken questions, spoken answers, and the D/deaf panelists -- perfectly able to speak for themselves -- left out.

Again, an admirable woman but ... a mom used to talking for her kids who rapidly began talking for everyone. I don't know if it's a deaf/hearing thing or just a "Mom! Quit it!" thing, but after a while I wanted to stand up and say, "I have a question FOR THE DEAF PANEL MEMBERS ONLY." Only I didn't have a question. :-/ And it would have seemed snarky toward her, and I didn't particularly feel snarky toward her. I just wanted to hear from the D/deaf people.

7) The fellow who runs the thing, Bill Rennie, is one of the best storytellers I've seen in ASL, and I'm putting him at a photo finish behind Austin Andrews here. He told a golf story ... from the point of view of the ball ... that floored the entire audience. DAYUM, but that was brilliantly signed, funny, and incredibly skillful. Fantastic signer.

8) E-mail addresses for everyone, so that's nice.

9) While we were waiting for the deaf panel to get started, we were all sitting around the fire ring in late afternoon/early evening. Lovely day. And just as happened at the last one, BEG found herself on the panel. :-) But before Bill could find her, he came up to me and asked "DEAF YOU?" I blinked a bit and said, "ME? HEARING."


And we both looked over, saw BEG sitting on a nearby bench, and he went over and got her.

That was interesting to me. At the Tehachapi SW, I distinctly recall BEG and I having breakfast with a few women, one of whom found out then and there that BEG was deaf. "DEAF YOU?" she signed with this incredulous look on her face. BEG smiled and nodded. It made sense after I thought about it that, in a signing environment, you can't tell if someone is deaf, really.

And apparently, you can't necessarily tell if someone is hearing, either. I had realized the former, and in retrospect, they're sort of interchangeable, but I hadn't banked on being mistaken for something that I wasn't. Maybe my hearing feels so constant and everpresent to me that I can't imagine how it isn't obvious to anyone else -- especially given my signing level, which is beginner/intermediate only. Well, my signing skills are actually quite good; it's my receptive skills that suck. It wasn't bothersome, just surprising.

Off to e-mail everyone to get them into my gmail ...

post a comment

Date:2007-07-11 21:39
Subject:Origami to Help Teach Math to Deaf Students


I'm not entirely convinced of how useful this is to deaf students as opposed to all students. I suspect that if deaf kids have more trouble picking up math, it's because it's hard to pick up anything when you can't understand your teacher. o_O

Nevertheless, possibly interesting ...

post a comment

Date:2007-07-03 20:04
Subject:Misunderstood Darwinism and languages

First, a quote from "Through Deaf Eyes":

If speech is better for hearing people that barbaric signs, it is better for the deaf; being the 'fittest, it has survived.'

A quote from "A History of Wales":

Although Darwin's theory of evolution caused much distress to the orthodox, Darwinianism was rapidly adapted to the world of the social sciences. Consequently, it was claimed that the changes which would render inevitable the decease of the Welsh language could be proved scientifically, and that they were independent of the will of man.

Darwinian selection, when misunderstood and misused by the great majority of ignorant fools, is always used to justify their own underlying prejudices. Rarely has anyone tried to apply natural selection to social systems and come away saying, "Gee, I was totally wrong about those other strange people over there! they're just as good and smart as I am!" Always, they use it to justify their own pre-existing prejudices.

And hearing people have been doing this with one another for years. It's not just you.

Seriously -- I think studying the treatment and history of all minority languages is one of the most valuable things any Deaf activist could ever do.

3 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-06-24 11:34
Subject:So apparently, it's not working anymore.

AutoGK -- it's stopped working.

It insists on putting the same subtitles as the first thing I rendered on a new file. Yes, I choose the correct sub file.

I'm no longer amused by this.

Interestingly enough, after having done a bit of digging, I see that it wasn't working the first time, either. Not really.

Lovely. Just lovely.

post a comment

Date:2007-06-22 10:37
Subject:Captions vs. Subtitling

There appears to be some question as to what the difference is between them, with some people saying "not much" and others saying "they're totally different." There are also websites that say that they are utterly different from one another, and then describe the difference in terms of "captions tend to" and "subtitles are more likely to," which doesn't strike me as all that hard-and-fast.

From what I can see, captions assume you can't hear, whereas subtitles assume you simply can't understand what language is being spoken. I may need to have a Korean movie subtitled, but I don't have to be told when a phone is ringing, that sort of thing.

Basically, subtitles assume that you can hear. But that's about it.

It also seems that I combined the two by rendering the dialogue in subtitle style (although I'd very much like to position things properly instead of just having them sit center-aligned on the bottom of the screen) but also inserting things like *cellphone* and *old-style doorbell*.

There's also the issue of how much information about the dialogue has to be included. If an actor is clearly scared out of his mind, do I have to tell you that he's whimpering his line, or can I just put a subtitle on it? And how much of that is too much? If an actor is plainly furious, do I need the exclamation point? But if I don't put it when I judge it shouldn't be there, that introduces non-standard subtitling practices that a viewer may find confusing when they may be reading faster than they like, in a language that isn't their first, in an effort to keep up.

There is simply no escape from the issues surrounding translation. Even moving from the spoken form of a language to the written form is a translation process. *argh*

Minor observation: I'd really love to render MP4's for the ipod with 9pt Arial with the aliasing turned off. *sigh* That would be beauty.

8 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-06-22 10:24
Subject:What Makes A Well-Subbed Movie?

Okay, this has probably been done before, and if so, please excuse me and feel free to direct me to that discussion.

But I'm curious now as to what you feel makes a well-subtitled movie.

What are the things that make comprehension annoying when you're reading subs? Do you prefer rolling captions, pop-up captions, or the ones that "paint" on the screen a word at a time?

Do you like italicized dialogue for offscreen and voiceovers? Do you expect it to be that way?

Do you like bold fonts? Do you like them to stretch the full width of the screen, or should they ideally be some fraction, like no wider than two-thirds?

What color is best? Standard white? Cyan? Yellow?

Black background or no?

For rapid-fire dialogue, have you ever had a really rough time following it for some movies?

Do you expect every single word to be shown, or can the occasional "well" or "okay" or "hm" get left off?

I'm certainly not expecting anyone to answer all of these questions, so don't feel that this is a questionnaire or survey. These are just the sorts of things I'm asking myself about what makes a set of movie subtitles easy on the eyes. I might want to watch a few favorite with the subs on and the sound turned down to see if I can't get a feel for it. But if you have any strong opinions one way or another, feel free to share. :-)

And again, no need to write a huge tome; I know I brought up a lot of things in this post and I certainly don't expect anyone to write a thesis in response.

post a comment

Date:2007-06-22 09:56
Subject:Success! AutoGK rocks for subtitles ...

I owe Jared Evans a case of whatever his favorite beer is.

AutoGK works a treat for burning handmade subs into an AVI file, and the xvid codec it uses isn't bad, although it'd be nice to be able to choose that sort of thing. But it's really quite good and looks nice when fullscreened.

Next up: Playing around with the different types of subtitle formats I can use with it. Following JE's advice, I saved the subs to .ssa format, and apparently AutoGK doesn't pay any mind to the italicization in that format, which means onscreen and offscreen dialogue looks the same (From wha tI've seen, offscreen dialogue or voiceovers are italicized in subtitling.) I'd also like to be able to put a black background behind some of the subs when it's white text over either a white or a high-contrast background.

However, that said this is a really good episode of "Doctor Who" and she's gonna love it I'm sure BEG will enjoy it even though she's sure to buy the DVDs legally and with her own hard-earned money as soon as they come out, since she's already bought the other ones.

General observations about the process of subtitling:

1) Tedious. Tedious, tedious, tedious. Very.
2) There is a strong tendency to lag by about a tenth of a second, which isn't a surprise. This makes the timing a rather iterative process, as you make the first pass at a scene, then go back and fine-tune it.
3) This Doctor talks so fast that I'm really glad BEG is a speed-reader, because she's going to get skid marks on her eyeballs.
4) I used a "/" to demote switches between characters, but I think CC uses a double greater-than. Again, tedious and a bit fiddly.
5) It's interesting to have to break a caption into two lines, and judge what the best breakpoint is to facilitate comprehension when reading quickly. On the whole, you don't want a long line with a short one beneath it. It's nice when they are the same size. But it also helps the speed-reading wen you break long lines up by phrasing.
6) I'm probably a bit more niggly about punctuation in my subtitles. I highly doubt anyone else uses semicolons, and I don't think most subs have as many exclamation points. I seem to subtitle as if I wuold write the dialogue if I were writing a book. *shrug*
7) I can see why hearies don't care much for them. I tend not to although I expect it if I'm watching something with someone who's deaf. But they do interfere with the perception since your eyes spend so much time at the bottom of the screen. Ultimately, the best thing to do would be to re-film "Harry Potter" with Deaf, signing actors, but until that rocket ship leaves for Eyeth, subtitles will have to do.
8) Anime fans can be incredibly nitpicky about the superiority of dubbing over subbing, or subbing over dubbing, or whatever the religious schism of the week is. It's really strange to listen to a bunch of people, none of whom speak Japanese, arguing about which is the superior method of translation when all of them limp. If you really want The Full Experience, learn Japanese.
9) I need to think back on all the other junk I've got that I've wanted to show her and couldn't because there weren't any damned captions. This weekend's gonna be an Eyestrain Extravaganza.

In summary, if you want to caption, go to Jared Evans' blog. Search for "AutoGK." Then, buy him a beer.

3 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-06-21 10:25
Subject:More on the Saga of Subtitling

Potentially Useful: http://subtitlecreator.sourceforge.net/AddingSubtitles2aDVD.htm Ignore the "BTW, if you're doing something technical you must obviously be male!" screencap halfway down the page. My online lessons for this sort of thing will involve slightly different screencaps, viz. type "jamie bamber" into the images.google.com search box. :->

Random Observation: Subtitling David Tennant's Doctor is a bit of a challenge. He talks at like 120mph. o_O

Altruistic Motivation: I can't really see how this would be that useful, but I'll post the .ssa files when I'm done making them. O:-)

post a comment

Date:2007-06-19 16:26
Subject:Subtitling software *grits teeth*

Do you know what would be very, very nice?

Subtitling software that does the following:

1) Imports transcripts so that I can use the mouse to set in and out points for each subtitle.

2) Documentation that actually tells me how the hell to do this. Does no one understand the concept of software documentation, even for free/shareware?!

3) Documentation that doesn't say "There! Now you're done! Wasn't that fun?!" and then end, but instead actually tells you how the hell to save the thing to an AVI with the subtitles in place. Bonus points for documentation that does not tell me how to do this by saying, "Take the raxmafram and connect it to the flooblegarp, then click on the snerflewhapper to install the upgraded hooplemagruber ... " followed by my computer bluescreening. I have a MS in physics for gawdzsake. I really don't think I'm being unreasonable if I'm complaining about impenetrable documentation, here.

Now I am a publicity and communications maven by day, so I tend to get more than a little bent out of shape by poorly documented junk that fails to communicate properly. I really see no reason for a piece of software to have documentation that assumes that you know precisely what 17 bits of junk to scrounge out of the dumpster at the local Fry's to set up your Amiga(!!!!) to dump subtitles onto a VHS tape(!!!!). I am not looking to share my fansubbed "Japanese Tentacle Rape Porn" anime with 17 other geek friends all of whom socialize more with computers than with each other, here. I am looking to just stick some damned captions on an AVI that I'd like to share with a friend who needs captions/subtitles, damn it. This is like the zillionth time I've wanted to share an unsubbed AVI with BEG and transcripts just don't cut it, and I'm tired of having to just wait until the fripping DVDs come out. I want to share it with her NOW.

*bangs head into desk repeatedly*

Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don't reply to this comment with a one-line link to your subtitling software of choice; chances are nearly 100% that I've already attempted to use it and that I'm complaining about precisely that piece of junksoftware without mentioning its name.

Like I said, what I'd like is step-by-step instructions for importing a transcript, setting in and out points for each caption, and exporting the whole mess to an AVI that I can then burn to a CD and give to BEG. Extra bonus points if it doesn't involve installing junk on my computer that will install halfway, crash, and then render my copies of VirtualDub, WMP, and Premiere even more neurotic and prone to mental breakdown than they already are.

Sorry. A little testy today. I need some chocolate. It's just that there was a really cool episode of "Doctor Who" on recently that I want to subtitle for BEG since finding out that she's buying the DVDs, and believe me -- a transcript for this particular episode would completely ruin it. It's creepy and scary as all getout and really well-done, and WAH! WANT SUBTITLES!

5 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-06-15 13:28
Subject:Rhetorical questions and ASL

BEG has an excellent book that I still have to buy; I'm going to order it this weekend from a local bookstore, the ASL Phrasebook. I paged through it when we went to that Silent Weekend a while back (the one where we almost got snowed in *ARGH*).

That book went over one of the most common devices in ASL: rhetorical questions. And it's occurring to me how thoroughly the concept of rhetorical questions are soaked into the language, and that I'm going to have to get used to that to move forward. A lot of the concepts that are puzzling me as to how to get them across in ASL can be addressed by this device. Interestingly, a lot of nonspatial prepositions are very nicely put using this device.

"I stayed home from school because it was raining."


"I had a burger for lunch."


There are also ways in which the verb "to be" is communicated, one way in an equative fashion by setting up two things in space and then doing the "same as" hand between them, and the other by saying one thing WHAT? the other.

I'm still getting used to it, and it takes a bit of a mental shift to deal with it, but it's really a very nice way to get those sorts of things across. I'm also looking forward to learning the language enough to determine when one or the other is appropriate, like when you use the active/auxiliary and equative forms of "to be" in Welsh, or "ser" and "estar" in Spanish.

I'm also curious about other spoken languages that do this rhetorical-question thing -- if there are others and how they implement it. There must be.

I really need to order that book. I know that it said, "ASL uses rhetoricals a lot," but what I thought it meant was, "ASL uses rhetoricals a lot." What it really meant was, "ZOMG YOU CANNOT TALK FOR MORE THAN FIVE SECONDS IN ASL WITHOUT A RHETORICAL YOU MUST LEARN THEM OR DIE!"

So, like I said ... bit of a mental shift, there. Far from the mild "ASL uses rhetoricals," it's more like, "You will be up to your nose hairs in rhetoricals if you learn ASL. Rhetoricals! Scads of them, as far as the eye can see! They go for miles!"

3 comments | post a comment

Date:2007-06-13 20:30

I'm working on it, one verse at a time, in ASL. For now, here's the Welsh and a link to an online dictionary and learning site if you're curious:

Llifodd y dyfroedd yng Nghwm Tryweryn
Gwasgarwyd hen ŷd y wlad.
Mae llewyrch y lloer ar y tonnau oer
Yn hywrnos y dichell a'r brad.

Codwyd yr argae yng Nghwm Tryweryn
er gwaethaf protest a stwr.
Boddwyd ein cartref, boddwyd y pentref.
Mae'r cyfan yn awr o dan ddŵr.

Hagr yw'r argae yng Nghwm Tryweryn.
Hagr yw argae'r trais.
Daeth lli y gelyn i dir Cwm Celyn,
Dinistriwyd gan ddwyn y sais.

Distawodd y lleisiau yng Nghwm Tryweryn.
Mae hiraeth ar lethrau llwm.
Torrwyd ein calon gan raib yr estron.
Nid eiddo Cymru yw'r cwm.

Cofeb ein methiant yw Cwm Tryweryn.
Mae'r gwarth yn ein llethu nawr.
Hwylwn ein dagrau wrth regu'r argae
Yn nydd ein cywilydd mawr.

There's a few concepts that are proving very hard to chase down in ASL, though. "Rape" is a difficult sign to find; I can't imagine anyone wanting to put that in an online dictionary. "Homesickness/longing" and "deceit" I've found but they're hard to make out. "Memorial," there's another one.

"Despite" is a concept I'm having a hard time working out in my head. "X happened despite Y." How would that be expressed in ASL, I wonder ... ?

And there's a phrase in English: "salt of the Earth." Meant to describe people who are very connected to the land around them, hardworking, rural people, often farmers. Is there a general phrase to describe such people in ASL ... ?

I'm also uncertain how to express the idea of a passive voice. The difference between "I broke the glass" and "The glass was broken" in spoken English doesn't quite exist in ASL, but there must be a way to get across a concept that feels the same in the mind when one is signing.

Lots to work out!

post a comment

my journal