Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Why American Sign Language Gloss Must Matter

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Why American Sign Language Gloss Must Matter

Article excerpt

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Writing in the present issue of the American Annals of the Deaf, Grushkin appropriately observes that attention to writing down American Sign Language (ASL) for the purpose of instructing deaf children is much needed and timely The reading difficulties that deaf children experience in learning to read English are well known and understandable due to the impact of hearing loss, especially for those children who have been profoundly deaf since birth or lost their hearing before the age of 2 years. Supports and strategies for helping deaf children learn and master English literacy (via English-based intervention systems and translation via ASL; Garate, 2012; Trezek, Wang, & Paul, 2010) are one option. However, a more clearly defined option is needed, especially given that, as Andrews, Leigh, and Weiner (2004) point out, the cohesion of reading theory is far from real in the field of deaf education. What educators and researchers may have overlooked is that while English is an issue in reading for deaf children (regardless of what supports and strategies are provided), the print itself can be the source of the problem for these children. It is our belief that a wrong language is being rep- resented in print; the focus should not be on English print but on, for example, written ASL.

To this end, exploration of the area of signed language reading must occur. In this scenario, deaf children would have recovered their capacity for reading when it came to ASL as compared to English. According to the ASL proficiency measurement research (e.g., Enns & Herman, 2011; Maller, Singleton, Supalla, & Wix, 1999; see Singleton & Supalla, 2011, for a review of the topic), deaf children are known for being native signers. This is understandable given that ASL is a signed language, whereas English is not. Thus, deaf children who experience signed language reading are expected to be free of the complications associated with their disability. With the needed sensitivity of theory and practice for language modalities (i.e., signed vs. spoken languages), the concept of linguistic accessibility is highly relevant, for it offers a possible remedy for the reading difficulties that plague deaf children as a group (see Supalla & Cripps, 2008, for further discussion of the linguistic accessibility concept). Grushkin's focus on providing reasons and discussions in regard to what form an ASL writing system should take serves as an excellent starting point for the field of deaf education. Any consideration of the signed language-based approach to teaching reading would carry much potential for the curriculum, instruction, and assessment alignment.

However, the title of our response article, "Why American Sign Language Gloss Must Matter," suggests that something is missing in Grushkin's writing about the value of written ASL in the education of deaf children. To elaborate, ASL gloss is composed of a particular approach to teaching reading to deaf children that includes learning to read in their own language while simultaneously transitioning to English literacy. ASL gloss can be seen as the "elusive" intermediary system for children who are competent in ASL and in need of undergoing the process of learning to read English. (See Goldin-Meadow & Mayberry, 2001, for discussion on the need for an intermediary system that maps ASL onto English literacy in order to produce better reading outcomes.) Although Grushkin acknowledges the intentions of ASL gloss with his brief discussion based on Supalla, Wix, and McKee (2001), he suggests pursuing the course of creating a conventional writing system for ASL, not something intermediary with English literacy in mind. Going back to the linguistic accessibility framework, English is not simply another language for consideration with deaf children. The status of English as a spoken language is a serious matter that Grushkin does not seem to understand or address. …

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