SayWhatClub Online Voices January 2011

Crappy SIgn

Bill Graham
Copyright 2011

Several years ago I quietly dubbed my style of signing “ALDA Crappy Sign.” The term derived from the Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA), where other people sign just like me, or even worse. Recently Howard Rosenblum, the brilliant incoming CEO of the National Association for the Deaf, suggested that my term be made more generic and called simply CSL for Crappy Sign Language. That made good sense and now I too refer to persistently vague and misguided signing as CSL.

I used the term CSL for the first time in a public forum recently while speaking at the ALDA convention in Colorado Springs. It got laughs, as I knew it would, but afterwards people came up and thanked me for calling a crooked spade a crooked spade. I guess it validated their own fractured efforts to sign and made their world safe for mediocrity.

For many deafened adults, there’s undeniable practicality in using CSL. When I communicate verbally with others, there are many words I can’t hear, lipread, or guess at correctly in context. In such cases, miming, exaggerated mouthing and facial expressions, and exceptional slowness in connecting signs with words -- the key characteristics of Crappy Sign -- often come to my rescue.

I probably speak for Crappy Signers everywhere in saying that the most important factor for understanding a conversation is pacing. We cannot, repeat: cannot, follow fast signing. Even one fast sign in a sea of pokey ones can upset the applecart of comprehension.

Most sign language interpreters don’t get it. They are trained in rapid-fire ASL, perhaps the most elegant and evocative mode of communication ever invented. By association, interpreters are elegant and evocative when they use it. And the faster they go the more elegant and evocative they become. But in the CSL universe, speed kills communication. That road kill on the ASL Highway is my brain.

I’d love to be fluent in ASL, but I never will be. If I worked really hard I could maybe move up from CSL to BSL (Better Sign Language), but I doubt I’ll find time to try. Crappy Sign will remain my native method of signing, and in my eyes it’s a beautiful place. Hands move slowly, mouths go wide, and almost always I understand. Ah, home.

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