Cued Language Structure: An Analysis of Cued American English Based on Linguistic Principles

Article excerpt

by E. Fleetwood and M. Metzger (Silver Spring, MD: Calliope Press; 1998, 96 pages, soft cover)

Let's assume there is some consensus that deaf and hard of hearing students need to be exposed to a reasonable, unambiguous model of English, whether they are attempting to learn it as a first or second language. Exposure is important for children to do their natural job of being little linguists. That the interpretation of "reasonable and unambiguous" varies is an understatement in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students. This is evident in the numerous signed systems that exist (e.g., Signed English, Seeing Essential English, Signing Exact English, Linguistics of Visual English, etc.) and a cued system, popularly known as Cued Speech, the linguistic application and visible characteristics of which are discussed as "cued language" in this text under review.

As a research scholar who has several published articles and books that have discussed the merits of the signed systems and oral approaches, I have become disenchanted with the overall effectiveness of these approaches, most of which have been in use for 20 years or more. Nevertheless, professionals need to be careful that disenchantment does not lead to hardening of the knowledge-seeking arteries. We need to continue to investigate the reasons for our relative lack of success in representing English in a reasonably clear and unambiguous manner for many deaf and hard of hearing students. We also need to inquire whether it is really feasible to attempt this representation in a mode that is different from the soken mode.

Cued Language Structure, with its eloquent style and lucid explanations, compels us to take yet another look at this business of representing English via the use of manual or hand symbols. In fewer than 100 pages (96 to be exact), this book covers quite a bit of ground with a Foreword, 6 chapters, an Afterword, a Glossary, and References. It also contains sidebars-further explanation or clarification of terms/topics in the margin at the right side of the text. The authors have done a fine job of making this book accessible to a broad audience.

The authors waste no time in addressing controversial, thought-provoking issues; the Foreword is replete with information, ranging from a few historical background perspectives to a brief description of each chapter to a compelling call for further investigation of the "linguistic claims" of "invented communication systems." In fact, the Foreword provides a synopsis of the major issues that are elaborated upon in the ensuing chapters. The most intriguing statement is one that has consumed me over the years: "Can a language that has traditionally been spoken and heard remain intact when conveyed with different articulators and in a different medium?" (p. 10).

In Chapter 1, the authors provide a good, brief description of the nature of linguistic competency, including a discussion of the difference between "structure" and "form." Many of us do not need to be convinced that "phonology" does not have to be rendered acoustically or be sound-based (consider sign languages, for starters) or that "speech" is a descriptive attribute of the user of a spoken language, rather than a requirement of that language. However, I am certain there are some of us in this field who might need more evidence for the following statements: "Acquiring the phonology of a language is the first step to learning about how its word parts can be manipulated to influence their meaning" (p. 17), and "The intonation and stress people use while speaking [or expressing] a language plays an important role in how people understand each other" (p. 19; words added). The authors provide some evidence for these assertions via the use of linguistic analysis, and there are a few references for obtaining further details and support. In addition, both the authors and I are in agreement that these assertions are also necessary for developing script literacy skills in English. …

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