A lot of Deaf people don't read English?!?

Ok, I know my source for this “factoid” is a work of fiction, but it is one produced by Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist John Sandford. I’m speaking of this passage in his 1994 work Night Prey where two characters are kind of hashing through some evidence:

I’m aware of Deaf Culture, and get the references above to it, but I have never heard anything about Deaf people not learning to read or write English. Is this fact or straight out fiction? If fiction, seems like a strange invention for a writer of Sandford’s stature.

It used to be a lot worse.

Imagine you’re a deaf kid. Your parents are very likely to be hearing, and so won’t sign. So how do you communicate? With pidgin signs and a bit of leapreading.

But without some intervention you’re not likely to be very good at lipreading because you won’t be that familiar with english. When do you practice your english skills? Either you’re with other deaf people who prefer to sign, or you’re with non-signing people who speak english and you’re left out.

If you don’t speak english, learning to read english is going to be a lot harder, right? Think how you learn to read. C-A-T. Cuh-Aaaa-Tt. Cat! What if you had to learn each word by rote? Yeah, that’s how they do it in China, and that’s how some dyslexic people learn to read, they just can’t figure out phonics. But it’s a lot harder. Now imaginethat you’re learning to read Chinese from someone who doesn’t speak english OR chinese.

We used to have schools for the deaf where signing was prohibited! And so the teachers refused to sign, would punish kids who signed, because the theory was if they could communicate by sign they wouldn’t learn english. Left unexplained is how you teach english and vocalization and lipreading to someone you can’t even communicate with. Let alone teach them to read and write.

Anyway, it seems incredible that a deaf person would also be illiterate, since writing seems like such a natural compensation for being unable to voice, but due to some wrongheaded educational theories it used to be a lot more common than it is now. Nowadays it would be rare to find an illiterate deaf kid, unless they were multiply handicapped.


Seriously, interesting post.

I am fairly conversational in American Sign Language and I have had a fair number of deaf friends. It has been my personal experiance that those I have know can read but many would write notes in a very differant grammer than is typical for hearing people.
Were I might say “Do you want to go to the store with me?” many would write
“want go store?” or some similar shorthand form of talking. This is no doubt a means to speed up conversation but I think it reflects the mental organization as well. As to those others being illiterate, it seems impracticle to me due to the fact that much of signing is spelling out the words and many gestures are based on/ incorperate a letter in the sign.
I realize this is only personal experiance and limited in scope but thought it may give some insight.
And yes. There are signs for cuss words and don’t include the middle-finger one.

Nope, it matches exactly what my experience is- one of my government jobs had me supervising several hearing-impaired workers. They all read English just fine, and in fact they read very well- the TDD phones were basicly early Texting. So, their grammar might be a little strange when they wrote, but they read a lot and fast. I learned ASL. Forgot most of it.

And, I was engaged to a hearing impaired person for 5 years, who worked as a ASL interpreter (she could sign, and she was only “hard of hearing”) so we also had plenty of Hearing Impaired (most aren’t actually “Deaf”, they are Hearing Impaired to various degrees) friends- they all could read English just fine.

I just called my Ex, and she said “that’s bullshit, in fact they read more than we do as that’s what closed captioning for the hearing impaired is, you moron”. :smack: So John Stanford is full of shit. (“Bullshit”= arms crossed over chest, right hand on top- raised, aimed toward shoulder, making “devils horns”; left hand under. aimed at hip, and making flinging motions with the fingers.)

What I thought was that Deaf people are usually ok with reading, but have trouble with writing, because ASL is structured very differently than English, so they find grammar difficult (i.e., “want go store?”)

This also makes me think about how unrealistic Stephen King’s character Nick in “The Stand” was: a deaf (not Deaf) man who lipread perfectly, even multiple people having animated conversations, and who communicated with the hearing entirely through writing notes, although he had not learned to read, write, or communicate until he was 10 or so.

Another book about the experiences of a Deaf person trying to learn in an oralist (that is, focusing on lipreading and spoken English rather than learning sign) school is Bernard Bragg’s “Lessons in Laughter.” Interestingly enough, Bragg didn’t “write” the book–he signed it, and one of his friends translated his stories into written English. There are a few short passages that Bragg wrote without a translator, but by and large, it’s a work in translation.

Minor question, but what’s the difference between “deaf” and “Deaf”?

I genuinely don’t know.

Is there a difference?

I believe that “deaf” simply means that you’re hearing-impaired to a non-trivial degree, and “Deaf” means that you belong to Deaf Culture, the members of which consider themselves a cultural minority rather than victims of a disability.

So, per Lemur866 yes and per DrDeth no?

I believe there is a thread on the SDMB regarding a “written language” created by the Deaf, which apparently resembles heiroglyphics.

I am pretty sure that Lemur866 was talking about the old un-enlightened days. *“Nowadays it would be rare to find an illiterate deaf kid, unless they were multiply handicapped.” *All my experiences is that this hasn’t occurred for a long time, my ex is now in her 40’s, and my workers would be about that old now. They all learned to read, and read a lot. “Closed captioning for the hearing impaired” really says it all. I suppose if the book was set in pre-WWII days, then maybe. But not in 1994. :dubious:

Actually, data of that format doesn’t demonstrate that the subjects are having difficulty with English grammar so much as it does that they’re using it in a different manner; you’ll notice that most of what has been dropped is the ‘helper’ words, what are called closed-class words in formal syntax. Essentially, it looks like they’re eliminating all of the non-essential components and only including strictly what is necessary to be understood.

As such, I guess I just want to point out that it’s less likely an intellectual or cognitive block, and more a quick way of making oneself understood.

I wouldn’t call it a “different mental organization”. It sounds like, well, sort of broken English coming from someone who doesn’t speak the language well.

Some signs involve references to English spelling, but that just means a word was “borrowed” from English; it doesn’t mean that users of the word speak English. English has a lot of words borrowed from French, but that doesn’t imply that English speakers can necessarily read and write French.
Just anecdotally, I’ve run into one or two deaf people whose written English was very obviously the result of limited ability with what was, for them, a second language. While obviously most deaf people learn written English during their education, some clearly don’t. Acquiring English literacy involves learning English if you’re not a native speaker of the language, and for whatever reason some deaf people don’t really manage to achieve proficiency in English.

If you mean SignWriting, it’s a written language, but it wasn’t invented by a deaf person. It has been used to write ASL, and much of it consists of fairly transparent iconic images. I guess that’s what you mean when you say it resembles hieroglyphics, although it doesn’t look to me anything like any other writing system I’ve ever seen.

Maybe there’s some cultural practice in the deaf community of writing in deliberately “telegraphic” English, but the example cited above and the other examples I’ve seen in real life strike me as simply broken English. It looks to me like evidence of poor acquisition of English grammar.

Actually, www.signwriting.org was created by Valerie Sutton, who is not Deaf. It is not a language but rather a means to write any Signed language.

Good post, Lemu866.

There are differing degrees of literacy/illiteracy. Have you encountered the term functionally illiterate? That means one is not literate enough for basic purposes such as reading a bus schedule, ordering from a menu, completing forms, etc. It’s very easy for a person who is highly literate to find himself functionally illiterate: move to an area where the language is different than his own. The Deaf are, for the most part, immersed in a world in which the written language is not their own. And as, Lemur866 indicated, there hasn’t been much concern in the Hearing world to change that fact. The link I provided in my posting just above is an attempt to rectify the problem of illiteracy for the Deaf. It has made some progress over the last thirty years and I hope to see it make far more in the years to come.

Along with being used to write ASL, it’s been used to write Sign Languages from: Australia, Belgium, Boliva, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Taiwan.

And since its approach is based on recording bodily movements, a related system (developed by the same person) is used to record dance movements.

Yeah. SignWriting (SW) is a descendant of DanceWriting (DW) and both of them are part of Sutton Movement Writing (SMW).

When I was taking Speech at my community college, for a motivational speech, I chose the topic of volunteering to teach adults to read. For the opening of my speech, the “catch,” I passed out a page of a nursery story written in the ASL version of SW. Then I had a volunteer tell us what the story was about. She did pretty well, giving a credible rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. The thing is, the story was actually Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

What’s my point? The volunteer had demonstrated unintentionally what passing is when it comes to literacy. For many years–and I believe still the case for many Deaf–the Deaf have been forced into passing as literate in English. It comes as no surprise to me that there are Deaf who are functionally or completely illiterate in English.

Speaking of passing, I can’t remember the name of a movie with that theme. The protagonist had spent years passing as literate and then, to keep his job (or some such theme), he was going to have to pass a monitored written test. The movie showed the tribulations and triumphs of his learning to read.

Which is much like a direct translation from ASL to English.

Having learned English first and ASL second, it does take a bit to not think of it as “broken” English. Once you get into the swing of ASL it flows rather well. ASL is also not signed English. It can be considered a language all its own. Of course not all deaf people use ASL.

And to answer the OP, not one of the many deaf people I’ve met could not read/write English. Like pointed out above, TTY and closed captions were created for the deaf.

There have probably been several movies about people hiding their illiteracy, but one of them is The Pride of Jesse Hallam, which starred Johnny Cash as a man who had to learn to read when he was well into middle age.