ON HAND: Inventing signs…again.

This aoriginally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

So what’s the deal with the name contest for Sorenson VRS?

When I saw the announcements, I thought, “Not again!” In my original article about Holly Daniel, the hearing woman who faked being deaf for years and landed a Saturn car commercial where she invented a sign for the brand, I wrote:

Edna Johnston, an educator at Chicago’s Columbia College in the B.A. in Interpreting program and local ASL expert, explains, “The sign she invented . . . does not adhere to the rules set in ASL for the creation of new signs and ASL vocabulary–We have a limited number of signs for various makes of vehicles . . . basically we do not have initialized signs with descriptive motions (i.e. ‘B’ for Buddy and motion made for ‘music,’ ‘L’ for Laura and ‘tall,’ etc.). It’s not done that way.”

Johnston continues, “Another thing–when signs are created–they are usually iconic in nature and not initialized–for instance, microwave, fax, camcorder, etc. Actually right now, the deaf community fingerspells ‘Saturn’.” (Edited for brevity. DeafNation Newspaper, March 1997).

Sure, deaf and hearing people invent signs all the time, such as in the classrooms or workplace–but these signs are supposed to stay in these locations, not to be used publicly. Besides, it’s not really ethical to invent a sign specifically for the purpose of publicity, like the Sorenson name contest. At a conference I went to several years ago, an announcement was made onstage that the new sign for “Verizon” was a V slashed through the air downwards. People talked about it at the conference, but the novelty soon wore off and they started fingerspelling the name again.

When I saw the new sign for Sorenson VRS–shaking the “s” in the air, then fingerspelling VRS–I thought, “But that’s what some people have been signing all along? You had to hold a contest for that?” (The mocking signs like “Sore-VRS” hold no validity for me.) Seeing that Sorenson is a hearing-run company, it makes me even more confounded that they think they can create a new sign. It doesn’t matter if the person who submitted the winning entry is deaf or not.

When you put a group of deaf people together, signs will evolve naturally. The deaf kids at my high school and I had many of our own signs that had no direct English translations. These signs were used among ourselves, away from the influence of hearing teachers/interpreters.

I think we need to stop accepting that it’s okay for hearing companies, hearing people, or even deaf people to invent signs, and start allowing our beautiful ASL to evolve naturally.

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