Voice? or No Voice?

Question: Should a hearing person using ASL also use his voice to communicate at the same time? Consider several things in making the decision. Sign language by its very nature is a visual language. It has its own grammar, including its own sentence structure and word meanings. ASL grammar uses facial expression, hand movement, and use of the space to accurately create meaning. Even ASL mouth movements are different than English words. For example, signing the word “success” often uses the mouth movement of “pah,” which makes it impossible to both sign and pronounce the word at the same time. (Try saying “success” and “pah” at the same time!)

Because of the many differences between SPOKEN English and SIGNED ASL, it is impossible to consistently create grammatically correct English and ASL at the same time. Simultaneous Communication (SimCom) is somewhat of a compromise of both languages. SimCom speakers must be aware of its weakness or they will miscommunicate in both.

Some hearing ASL signers wrongly think that their ASL improves when they do not use their voice. But, to be clear in ASL, the message must be planned, and practiced in ASL. Using ASL clearly (without voice) also demonstrates a respect for Deaf culture. It is very difficult for hearing people to ignore what they hear. But, when communicating in ASL, it is culturally appropriate to disregard audio signals, such as noises and voices. It is rude to abruptly switch from ASL to a spoken language. Instead, it is more polite to ask to be “excused” from one conversation before entering another. Hearing people may never become “deaf,” but they can use common sense and respect deaf culture when communicating with Deaf people in ASL. The answer is, “It depends.” Let common sense prevail.

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