ERIC Identifier: ED414674
Publication Date: 1997-08-00
Author: Gustason, Gerilee
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Educating Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing:
English-Based Sign Systems. ERIC Digest #E556.
Sign language as used by deaf adults may resemble English, or it may be
American Sign Language (ASL), which has a grammar, syntax, and idioms distinct
from English. ASL is sometimes called a natural language because it evolved
through use by people who were deaf. In contrast, English-based sign systems
were developed by educators. These systems adopted much of the vocabulary of ASL
but added grammatical features of English such as articles (a, an, the), verb
endings (-s, -ing, -ed, -en), and other markers of English. English-based sign
systems follow English syntax. In some systems English words are presented
literally (e.g., one sign is used for the word "run" no matter what the
meaning). In other systems the signs for English words may vary depending on the
meaning of the word, to more closely relate to ASL.
One such system that remains close to ASL is Signed English (Bornstein,
Hamilton, & Saulnier, 1983). This system is aimed at preschool and lower
elementary children and includes a limited number of markers (e.g., -s, -ed,
-ly). It retains many conceptual signs from ASL, such as "hair-yellow" for
"blond". A number of children's storybooks such as Little Red Riding Hood are
available in this system. A system no longer widely used that was extremely
close to English is Seeing Essential English (Anthony, 1971), often referred to
as SEE 1. This system used separate signs for English morphemes and signed by
"root words" such as gene as the root for genetic, general, generous. The most
widely used system that is close to English is Signing Exact English, or SEE 2.
This system includes many more markers than Signed English (e.g., -ous, -ness,
-ment) and signs by English word rather than by concept. In SEE 2 one would use
the same signs for "is running" whether the subject is a man, the water, one's
nose, or a car. In ASL the sign for "run" would differ in each of those
Apart from specific vocabulary, all of the sign systems include the visual
features of a signed language that add meaning and intonation to signing, such
as shaking the head with a negative statement, raising the eyebrows with a
yes-no question, placing signs according to meaning, and using facial expression
and body movement to convey mood and tone.
Many individuals and programs use a mixture of systems. Because one can speak
nearly twice as fast as one can sign, it takes commitment and practice to sign
complete English. Many individuals sign in English word order but do not include
word endings or markers. Some choose to sign by word meaning; others choose to
follow the SEE 2 principle of signing by English word.
WHO CAN USE THIS OPTION?
English-based systems are used by
many parents of young children who are deaf. They are also used widely by
educators. Some of the vocabulary developed by these sign systems has been
accepted in widespread use in ASL, but many Deaf adults have negative attitudes
toward the use of such a system. They view it as a denial of Deaf culture and a
failure to accept a child's deafness. Parents and educators, on the other hand,
use it because they wish to expose the child to English in a clearly visible
modality. In addition, many parents prefer it because English is their own
language, and they wish their children to know the same language. A number of
families and schools use such a system as one component of a total approach to
communication, including ASL, amplification, speechreading, reading, and
writing. Persons who work with families of young children, or with the children
themselves, should be familiar with the system used in their locality.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THIS OPTION?
Children learn the
language of their environment when they perceive it clearly. Use of an
English-based sign system provides them with access to English during the
language learning years. Such a sign system is also useful with older students
who have not yet mastered English, when used with a second language learning
approach. As with any language, the fluency of the child will depend on the
fluency of the language models in his/her environment. When fluent and complete
models are consistently available, English can be learned in a normal manner.
This is a critical point for English-based sign systems, since English literacy
has been and remains very important and very difficult for many individuals who
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS OF THIS OPTION?
English-based sign systems do differ from ASL in grammar and in the use of
English markers, some Deaf adults do not like them. They feel it is an attempt
by hearing persons to impose hearing standards on children who are deaf. In
addition, because speech is faster than signs, an individual must be committed
to presenting complete English in signs and to make the effort to learn and
become fluent. Persons who are not wholly committed may end up signing only part
of their spoken message, presenting incomplete English that does not fit ASL
syntax either. What are some questions to ask before choosing this option?
Do I believe in the importance of presenting complete English? Am I willing
to take the time to become fluent? What is used in the schools in the area where
I live? What materials are available to help me learn? How will I react if I
meet negative attitudes from deaf adults? How will I ensure the child's
involvement with the Deaf community and his/her self-esteem as a person who is
Anthony, D. (1971). Seeing Essential English.
Anaheim, CA: Educational Services Division, Anaheim Union High School District.
Bornstein, H. (Ed.) (1990). Manual communication: Implications for Education.
Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Bornstein, J., Hamilton, L., & Saulnier, K. (1983). The comprehensive
Signed English dictionary. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Brasel, K. & Quigley, S. (1977). The influence of certain language and
communication environments in early childhood on the development of language in
deaf individuals. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 20, 95-107.
Gaustad, M.A.G. (1986). Longitudinal effects of manual English instruction on
deaf children's morphological skills. Applied Psycholinguistics, 7, 101-128.
Luetke-Stahlman, B. (1988). The benefit of oral-English-only as compared with
signed input to hearing impaired students. The Volta Review, 90(7), 349-361.
Luetke-Stahlman, B. (1993). Three PSE studies: Implications for educators. In
M.P. Moeller (Ed.), Proceedings: Issues in Language and Deafness. Omaha, NE:
Boys Town National Research Hospital.
The Gallaudet University Bookstore (800 Florida Ave., NE, Washington DC
20002) carries both Signed English and Signing Exact English materials.
Gallaudet University Press publishes the Signed English materials, and has
published a book, Manual communication: Implications for education (1990),
edited by H. Bornstein, which provides detailed information on the topic.
Specific questions about Signing Exact English may be referred to the SEE Center
for the Advancement of Deaf Children (10443 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, CA
90720). SEE 2 materials are published by Modern Sign Press, Inc., PO Box 1181,
Los Alamitos, CA 90720.