- Virginia Johnson
Is your child Deaf or does your family know someone who is Deaf? Are you or your family simply interested in learning basic sign language? American Sign Language (ASL) is the native language for thousands of Deaf* children and adults in the United States. Gallaudet University, a four-year liberal arts college focusing on deaf students, has produced materials to help people of all ages learn ASL for years. The new Gallaudet Children’s Dictionary of American Sign Language is a welcome resource for the Deaf community and those who love them and work with them.
This large (heavy and big) reference work has bright and friendly illustrations. Its intended audience is both deaf and hearing children and their teachers and parents. In the first part of the book, explanations are given for adults who might not be familiar with ASL. It explains how there are regional differences between signs people might use and has brief overviews of fingerspelling and the components that make up an ASL sign: handshapes, location, movement, orientation, and nonmanual signals & facial expression. Understanding these parts of the ASL system will make teaching and learning it easier. All of that may sound complicated, but it is plainly written out.
The dictionary itself will delight youngsters with its bright images of what the signs mean. For instance, “afraid” is illustrated by a furry, orange cat being frightened by a mouse. Adjacent is a black-and-white picture of a boy (or a girl) signing the word. Arrows indicate the sign’s movement. The beginning placement is lightly drawn. The end position is boldly outlined. Because one sign word might be used to represent several similar English words, those synonyms are listed alongside them and are included in the index.
Signs are often related to their words. The sign for “cat” looks like drawing out a whisker from your face. Rain starts with both hands high as clouds, and then the fingers fall like streams of rain. Snow is similar, but it flutters and drifts downward, suggestive of snowflakes. The sign letters (fingerspelling) frequently play a part, too. “Ready” uses the sign for “R” on both hands with a movement outward.
I actually taught my eldest beginning signs using a sign dictionary as a basis, and I can easily imagine that my two (now grown) Deaf children would have loved to have had access to this book. There were several sign dictionaries for children when they were growing up, but none were as complete or colorful as this one. In addition to the text, this dictionary also has a DVD of children signing.
Now that ASL is being taught in more Virginia high schools and can often be accepted as the world language requirement for degrees, there is even more reason to check out ASL—and The Gallaudet Children’s Dictionary of American Sign Language.
Note: although there are other modes of communication for the deaf, including Cued American English (cued speech) and auditory/verbal communication, ASL remains the predominant social language of Deaf culture.
*Deaf is capitalized to indicate people who consider themselves part of a distinct Deaf culture. Lowercase deaf indicates individuals who have a significant hearing loss and may or may not consider themselves part of Deaf culture.