Signers' new signs
Is ASL evolving?
In the 26 July 2022 issue of the New York Times, Amanda Morris—with videographers Mohamed Sadek and Ege Soyuer—provided an account of how signs used in contemporary American Sign Language have evolved. They begin their exposiiton with changes in the sign for telephone.
For more than a century, the telephone has helped shape how people communicate. But it had a less profound impact on American Sign Language, which relies on both hand movements and facial expressions to convey meaning.
Until, that is, phones started to come with video screens.
Videos illustrate how the physical sign for “telephone” changed over time. The sign for telephone that was once shown by holding a mouthpiece on a stick and a earpiece to one's ear is now shown by holding a smart phone to side of one's head.
The signs themselves are not the only thing that’s changing, though.
Over the past decade or so, smartphones and social media have allowed ASL users to connect with one another as never before. Face-to-face interaction, once a prerequisite for most sign language conversations, is no longer required.
Video has also given users the opportunity to teach more people the language — there are thriving ASL communities on YouTube and TikTok — and the ability to quickly invent and spread new signs, to reflect either the demands of the technology or new ways of thinking.
As one who has quite limited signing competence, these changes are fascinating. The times, they are a changing! There’s a revolution going on in Deaf World.
Morris, A. (2022, 26 July). How a visual language evolves as our world does: Ubiquitous video technology and social media have given deaf people a new way to communicate. They’re using it to transform American Sign Language. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/07/26/us/american-sign-language-changes.html