Newcomers to sign language are often surprised to learn that ASL word order is not decided by the pattern Subject-Verb-Object. Instead, ASL must make sense visually, as when drawing a picture. The sign order can change because of what is emphasized. Also, signs can change because of the signer’s opinions, attitude, mood, or feelings. Therefore, one idea could be signed many different ways. ASL is an expressive language. Much information is shown on the face. New signers must learn how to express ASL, and not just learn the signs. People who know ASL well tend to watch a signer’s face more than their hands because deaf listen with their eyes.
Even though deaf professors created Manually Coded English (MCE) systems for Signing Exact English (SEE-1 and SEE-2), these systems cause many arguments in the Deaf community. It seems to be impossible to fit the structure and words of a spoken language into visually expressive language. Therefore, interpreters are needed.
Hearing people who learn sign language tend to “Sign English” before they fully learn ASL. Deaf people often adapt and sign back to them using a basic type of signing, Pidgin Signed English (PSE). But those hearing signers often cannot understand Deaf people signing ASL among themselves. You cannot think (or speak) in English and sign ASL. Deaf-Hearing groups must have patience with others who struggle with the language barrier. When SWM conducts meetings using Simultaneous Communication (Sim-Com), we recognize that both languages will suffer. In those meetings, the Bible-based message of the day is more important than the purity of either language. SWM encourages everyone to adapt and learn to communicate with the indiviuals in front of them, whatever the language.
Adapted from Matthew S. Moore and Linda Levitan, For Hearing People Only (New York: Deaf Life Press, 2003), p. 69-73.