TED Conversations

Patrick Hennings

Director, Drive TV (project)

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What do you think about the future of the sign language?

I miss on your talk the point, the sign languages.

I think, the sign language is a very important part of the languages.
For the deaf people, there isn't another choice to use the sign language.

Now I would be interest to know,
on the one hand, why we have so many difference sign languages worldwide.
(It happened the same way as with the spoken languages, or?)
On the other hand, the deaf people are able to use the international signs (this is not a really own language), so there are no barriers between them.

Why it is possible with the International Signs?
It seems there aren't so big difference on the signs and cultures but with the spoken languages we (wanted) have it.
I miss some logic here.

Is this possible for the "spoken" languages on the "same" way as with the International Signs?

How do you think about the future of the sign language for to get our worldwide cooperation? Could this a possible solution for all of us?

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    Mar 19 2012: Without signs there is no language.
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    Mar 18 2012: Actually it seems logical that sign language will become the worldwide language.
    And you can imagine that environment by watching the animation "The Lost Thing".
    But, you know, I`m a TED translator and I really enjoy translating and learning the proverbs and philosophy of making the words (etymology) in other languages (I know Arabic a little, too) and I am really sad about my country losing its beautiful accents.
    I think popularizing the sign language (the unique one in whole of the world) does not worth to losing our beautiful languages and accents.
  • W T 100+

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    Feb 20 2012: Hi Patrick....I myself was very surprised to know that there are different sign languages for different
    countries. I always assumed that sign language was just one language for the deaf.

    How interesting, your idea...It would be nice if the entire world spoke one language, and we were all
    united and there would be no misunderstandings due to language barrier.

    Well, let's see what others say on this matter. Great question!!!

    Be Well, Mary
    • Feb 23 2012: Hi Mary, there are two different sign languages, that I know of. I speak English. Every language has, their own sign language. ( they sign in their own unique language ) I could be wrong but there is a Universal Sign Language? That is what we all need to learn. ( at least the basics ) :) We would have to ask Patrick. ?? Take care!
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        Feb 23 2012: Yes, that it is, it is the same as with the spoken languages, every country with the foreign language etc.. The amazing thing is the there are the International Signs (is not a really language, but it is easy enough to understand this worldwide) so I hope we could have this for a international spoken language.
        When the deaf people could be able for this why not then also we all? :)
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    Mar 12 2012: Yes, a bit familiar with ASL thank you! I often use abbreviated sign language with my son, and would like to see more mainstream use of sign language... especially in building a sense of respect, compassion, gratitude, and even a sense of humor...
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    Mar 6 2012: GREAT Question Patrick... UP until this AM I would not have given this topic much thought... however, this AM, I visited a charter school in Harlem, with a brilliant system to save and respect TIME... they had sign language for things like, "i agree", "I am grateful" "I need to go to the restroom" they had a strong argument, of all of that time taken up, shifting the attention of the room, just for someone saying, "I need to go to the restroom" - minutes, and eventually hours saved, at the benefit and respect of the class... the sign language carried over to the hall ways, it was brilliant and inspiring...

    So to think of your question... my thought would be... more general use of sign language... could benefit all of us, and provide more access to communicate across disabilities, language barriers and borders... and take on a new respectful art forum...
  • Mar 4 2012: Hi Patrick! Man, if I could answer your question, I would. As for my country, I would like basic sign language to be mandatory in schools. ( ya know, how they make humans, learn a second language) Most humans fricken walk away, when they are confronted with a deaf human. It starts with understanding and compassion. The world today, has little compassion with anything. You take care and do not give up the fight! :)
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      Mar 4 2012: Thanks a lot. The problem is really that most of hearing people are thinking that the sign languages are for babies. It is the same fault as to think that native people are primitive.
      So we should to ask how is it possible to have deaf professors then?
      • Mar 5 2012: Hi Patrick!
        Parents teach the basics to their babies. Eat, finished, potty and YEA! That is the basic sign language! ( I know this, because I babysit for a living ) Sign language, is not for babies! You know this, I know it! A deaf professor, could pull it it off! ( with her or his eyes closed! ) :) With Respect to ya!
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      Feb 23 2012: In Austria VODAFONE startet a project as test. Will see and hope.
      • Feb 29 2012: Humans that cannot hear, are out numbered. In life and politics and religion. It is a tough way to live. Even if if hearing loss, is a new experience! ( it sucks! ) :)
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          Mar 3 2012: Hi Tishe, maybe you are right, if hearing people are thinking so about the deaf people. Ok, I know myself about some deaf people like you. But, I know deaf people, they are part of our society. And why then?
          Here I want only ask if there is chance with a "language-tool" to find a better way to get all of us closer.
  • Mar 12 2012: Is closed captioning and the voice to chat technology part of the shift? If you don't have to employ someone frequently in the modern world we try to fire them. Since we often are looking at our computer, we have a larger expectation of people understanding the image than perhaps is justified. Is there much linguistical study of the signing culture? Is the benefit in learning sign in the deaf community increasing or decreasing?
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      • Mar 12 2012: Just trying to clarify you are saying the literacy rate in deaf individual is lower than the general population?
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    James A

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    Mar 6 2012: Im with Astra Singh, and Adrian Braam on this topic, i dont have the best of ears my self and I would personally feel much more comfortable from a sociological stand point if i ever completely went deaf to communicate via text, and art.
    Like Astra stated sometimes she can get all hands and feet body moving trying to convey a message. And theres nothing wrong with displaying such enthusiasm about something, at times but when its something simple im sure it can be very frustrating.
    So my thoughts are, with a smart pad, via texting , an art app for those pictures worth a thousand words, and a sophisticated real time translating teleprompter we could create something completely universal for the whole world to use.
  • Feb 24 2012: Yes Mary, I think so and know so! Wonderful story! Hey and thank you! Now, if we can bottle this and sell it, for free! :)
    • W T 100+

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      Feb 24 2012: You are welcome...have a great weekend!!!
      • Feb 24 2012: Back at ya! Apologies, Patrick, you started an excellent thread! :)
  • Feb 23 2012: Hi Patrick, I do not know the answer? Humans are idiots? Led by idiotic governments? Humans live in a poverty , stricken country? The non- hearing humans, of this world, should actually lead the hearing humans. They are more caring and sensitive and they actually listen! We will take that to the bank!! :)
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      Feb 23 2012: Reminded me of the expression "The blind leading the blind"....but in your case: the "deaf leading the hearers".....I think that the deaf community is very unique.

      I have friends that are deaf and when they see me their whole face lights up. They hug and hold me as if to say "look at you, I'm so glad to see you, can't get enough of you".......the encounters are always amazing....One of my dear friends who is deaf cannot sign. She grew up in a time and a place where that was not available to her. We find a way to communicate none the less.

      I will share a story with you, I think you will like it:

      Many years back a Russian elderly woman started attending the congregation where a friend of mine attends. Noone would approach the elderly woman, because she would come in, sit in a corner, and not mingle. My friend, who is very social, walked up to her, and discovered the language barrier...but that did not stop her. She quickly took her home after the service, and they shared a meal. On a separate occassion my friend's husband invited the Russian lady to accompany them to a Mexican restaurant....where she fell in love with the Mariachi players.

      The most amazing part of hearing my friend tell the story, is that once, some other members of the congregation walk up to my friend and ask her "could you please translate this message to her?".....they wanted my friend to translate what they were saying to the Russian lady...My friend started to laugh and said, I don't speak Russian. I talk to her using the language of love.....You should try it.

      I have never forgotten this experience, it taught me a great life lesson.

      When we love our fellow humans, there is no communication barrier.....All things are possible.

      Don't you think so Tishe?

      Be Well, I have enjoyed reading your comments.
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    Feb 22 2012: I have been thinking along the same lines as you, Patrick.. I don't know anything about sign languages worldwide but it has certainly struck me that a universal sign language could break down some of our barriers to communication!
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      Feb 25 2012: Yes, this would be great, dear Christine. Because of my own experience on my international travel tours. If you try in signs at first, then it is easier to communicate in difference spoken languages. So I got more questions of theatre and film artists who want to learn sign language. Maybe the sign language could resolve some barriers on this job also?
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    Feb 22 2012: Dear Patrick,

    You have several questions but I will address the first one: ‘What do you think about the future of sign language?’
    It may be that sign language is becoming more obsolete. Not saying it will become unnecessary. This may be due to a variety of developments in technology.

    Let me explain. About 12 years ago I learned Sign Language to be able to communicate with a few hearing impaired friends of mine. (It was Dutch SL but also with Surinamese specific signs and part International Signs.) Not being fluent I often also mixed this with signs of my own that were moment-inspired and you can imagine sometimes I was all hands, feet and body-moving trying to bring across my message :) Because over the years owning a mobile phone has become a new normal and texting has become so easy, many of our talks now… are mostly supported by texts. So we hardly use sign language with each other now. One friend mentioned that he sometimes also uses this method with his fellow hearing impaired friends.

    I think that developments with respect to speed in conversion of speech to text and sign language to text, also developments in hearing aids, and medical advancements in ear, nose, throat research may lead to less necessity to use sign language.

    Regards,
    Astra
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      Mar 20 2012: Dear Astra,

      thanks for your opinion!

      I think it is inconsistent.
      Because, in spite of all techniques is the sign language are not less. On the contrary, it is perhaps even more important.
      Mark says that it originally was once a common language. And out of the enumerated grounds, a variety found in the spoken languages, same if the sign languages.
      But why can the deaf communicate better? They think in the language with the body. And why will they be enough to never use the technology. And I know there are more and more hearing people who miss more and more the language of the body. I think it must relate to the actual origins of our language together.
      This could also explain why there are more people who are bored open, as the wish to seal themselves from "foreign" cultures.
      Best regards
      Patrick
  • Feb 22 2012: as hearing people we dont speak one language, why do we always assume that deaf people would use only one sign language?many signs come organically (sugar- ascratching motion on the side of the face, comes from deaf people being mloyed in times past in menial jobs- anding contracting sugar dermatitis from handling raw sugar). also some sign languages have not come from the deaf themselves but are merely signs for each word of a spoken language, hence the syntax etc is exactly the same whereas in NZsign, i would literally be saying i you love for the spoken i love you. i guess when esparanto (sp?) succeeds, then maybe a single sigh language would/could also.
  • Feb 21 2012: How do we sign, world peace? :) How do we sign? How do we sign, when the rest of the world is ignorant? I know sign language. It will not help. Excellent question Patrick! ( yes, i have learned from the deaf ) :)
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    Mar 20 2012: So, if every deaf-mute has a hearing aid, a sign language won't use and it may die.
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    Mar 18 2012: I saw something at the Gare de l'Est in Paris a few weeks ago that really struck me as completely nonsensical: there was a display with written text explaining that one of the trains would be delayed due to technical problems -- and on the very same display, there was an animated woman "reading out" the message in (French) sign language. Are there many deaf people who are illiterate, or am I missing something here?

    I think the future of sign language for the communication between deaf and non-deaf people rather lies in HUD glasses or similar displays (e.g. on smart phones) with sophisticated software that automatically records voice and displays it as text, the possibility of automated translation included. As for communication between deaf people, I think sign language remains a powerful instrument, but that does not answer the question of translating different sign languages. Frankly, I wasn't even aware of the fact that there are different dialects in sign language based on cultural contexts, but it of course makes a lot of sense: so yes, I think it is the cultural context that helped create sign language dialects, just like it helped create spoken language dialects and proverbs.

    You could compare international signs to one of the big international languages (most likely Chinese and English): people in the Western hemisphere know at least some English and younger generations have a lot more English classes at school, communicate in increasingly globalized contexts etc.. I don't think English is the answer (as I said, Chinese and a few other languages need to be kept in mind as well), but language education is gaining ever more importance, so we might have the answer in a few decades, generations, or centuries.
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        Mar 18 2012: It was just the display at the Gare de l'Est where text was displayed and a person was "reading out" the text in sign language that seemed so nonsensical to me... but at the same time, I wasn't sure whether there is a certain need for this kind of solution, so I wondered whether there are "many" deaf people who are illiterate, although I never really believed that. Thank you for pointing it out!
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          Mar 20 2012: That there are many deaf people among the relatively illiterate, but it git a logical and a bad reason. Let's see, just think how many people are still hearing about the sign language. Just mostly negative. For this reason, the school system at the deaf schools a disaster.That's why even the UN has demanded that now a real inclusion of sign language to take place. So most schools for the deaf are asked to rethink to make the training plan so that deaf people are finally on the same intellectual level of-hearing people. It is simply a crime,that deaf people are considered stupid. They may be stupid, just because they keep hearing stupid. I myself am only able to develop further, because I do not know the way through the school for the deaf. Although I acted like I think I'm not dumber than the people who do not sign you.
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        Mar 20 2012: Patrick, thank you very much for your comment... I am ashamed to realize I didn't know about this at all. I think technology may be a part of the answer to the disastrous situation of education for deaf people... and it is really shocking to learn about this injustice...
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    Mar 18 2012: My favorites are stop, slow down, and watch for animals. Hope to see them in the future. Best. Bob
  • Mar 12 2012: You got that right Miss Gena! This is an excellent question, from Patrick. It is a tough one too. I am thinking, it is low on the food chain. The priorities of the world, do not include an, international sign language. It should. It might help the hearing humans, to stop being destructive idiots. :( Take care and respect to the topic.
  • Mar 5 2012: I think that in the near future (say 50 years) we won't need sign language because everyone can communicate through regular language.
    Probably with a device that records the incomming sounds and then patches that through to the brain.
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      Mar 5 2012: Sorry, maybe you forgot that there are deaf people who cannot use the spoken language? Maybe it is possible for some of the deaf people with the "technical" devices. But it is sure that is not possible for all, so we got these UN-Convention!
      Otherwise, if you think, we would not use a very special language, then this is a discrimination. Have you enough experience to know how good the sign language for high level thinking?
      And, there are lot of jobs hearing people would be happy to use signs instead of to have to cry so they would become deaf with the time.
      And don't forget, that more and more people are becoming deaf. It is a fairytale to think that technology can replace everything too one hundred per cent!
      And a person who thinks we do not need a certain culture which is already ancient. These are the people who provide cultural tensions first under each other.
      I, however, try a way to think where like cultures can connect with each other.
      Your comment nevertheless thanks you for. So one can see how some people are and why we would need more time for the worldwide tolerance.
      • Mar 5 2012: I'm kinda saying that within a few years newborns who are deaf will get some device that allows them to hear language just fine such that they will also be able to learn how to speak it.

        Science even shows that if you put a device which turns sounds into fibrating motion attached to a person who became deaf not too long ago the audiotory part of the brain will actually recognize that these motions are sounds and start to learn how to interpret what is being said. (seen that on a research program on dutch tv not too long ago)

        So "deafness" will die out and with that probably also the need for sign language.

        If you think sign language can serve as a purpouse to bridge cultures then theres a reason for it not to die out. I must say I never regarded this as an option... probably because I don't know the benefits of sign language.

        At least that's my opinion on the matter.

        I personally see it more like all people will learn the same language to communicate more freely. At the moment almost all people are able to talk either chineese / spanish / english. And there are large tendencies for people to learn chineese and english.
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          Mar 6 2012: Hello Richard, thank you for the more exact argumentation. I cannot contradict this.
          I think perhaps we talk round the thing/matter.
          It is all about the argumentation of Mark who holds the opinion, that there was a "uniform" language sometimes, that this, however, has defamiliarized itself into different subcultures with the time. So it has happened also in Chinese. It no uniform gives Chinese, what there too enormous cultural problem leads. So we have a lot of tensions in Europe, flat because of the many different languages there in China.
          Here in the forum "Gestuno" (International signs) was mentioned.
          Developing a new uniform language unlike the hearing after the last World War in Europe with the sound languages which had a try sometimes. This brilliant project has failed, however, because people just didn't want to give up their language. The new language should be only an addition. Perhaps there is a new chance not only in Europe? The fear consists well mainly that with the task of the sound language of one's own the relationship to the nationality could be lost.
          I am German by birth. And I accepted English as a skin language without feeling then less than German. Since then, I rather feel as an European. Because I know that I use a language with which I far come in Europe.
          At that time, so I could settle down fast in Canada because I could already speak English good, but I never saw the nations England or the USA. However, but I consider English a certain instrument for the worldwide one in English.
          Why I think so, perhaps because I am deaf?
          Yes, the deaf people are much rather ready to learn "Gestuno". Because the deaf people do not think about into a national level-crossing barrier, like the hearing. We really could so far learn very much from them. "Gestuno" is so far a very important instrument for a slighter communication between all nations anyway. Flat if it does not create a spoken language, then the "worse" alternative like "Gestuno".
      • Mar 6 2012: Hello Patrick,

        From your last post I can see that you value the ability to talk to all people higher than just talking to those you see on a regular basis. And for that you seem to look for an international language which all people understand. To get to this you first turn to sign language which I think is because it is closest to you. For me english or dutch would be the languages I'd rate highly here.

        English and Spanish have also crossed many borders. Many people all around the world know these languages. The thing with (spoken) language however is that in general it is hard to learn. So many people can speak 2 languages but hardly anyone can speak more than 5.

        Language spreads due to which people want to communicate with eachother. For instance western europe will learn their native language and after that usualy learn English because our economies are closely tied and our 'political focus' has usualy been towards the USA.

        I think that eventually however, facillitated by the internet, people will cluster together who have similar interrests and they will 'form their own language'. Which is already happening if you look at "sms language" or "l33t 5p34k" or "internet slang".
        I think that we've already started the process which will lead to a global language, but we're just taking the firsts steps in getting there. In my eyes however this language *should be* more closely related to English than to sign language.
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    Mar 4 2012: There was an international sign language created in the 1950s, called Gestuno but it's only about 1500 signs and it's use is very limited.

    All sign languages are so different. I'm fluent in ASL but when I moved to Okinawa I struggled to learn Okinawan sign because so much of it was based on their japanese culture (ie the days of the month were based on historical/cultural activities performed on each day, rather than the first letter of the day as in ASL).

    There is a book written about a deaf woman who knew ASL and moved to a new country and how she thought it would be so easy to communicate with the deaf community there, but found how isolating it was because they really had no signs in common and it was extremely difficult for her to learn the new language. Just because you know one sign language doesn't mean you can easily learn another.

    American Sign Language is very different even around the US, based on the part of the country you're from. Each has it's own special dialects, or accents. The east coast tends to sign extremely quickly compared to the other sections of the US. Some signs are strictly culture based and someone from a different background would be lost.

    No sign language will ever be truly considered an international language. There are too many variables for it to be successful. You may be able to get by with pidgin signs, but that's not an actual language.
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      Mar 4 2012: Yes, Sarah. I talk about International signs and not about International sign language.
      Yes, sure, this is the matter there are "same" differences as with the spoken languages.
      But I got the experience how easy is it to use the internationals signs. So please how it is possible?
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        Mar 4 2012: It's just like Esperanto, the not very widely used international spoken language. Even if everyone in the world learned it, it would change and adapt locally so quickly that soon it would be nearly unrecognizable to another area. A language, any usage of a language, is in constant change. Each locale may not even realize how they have adapted the language to meet their needs until they meet another group using a different dialect.

        The idea behind even teaching an international pidgin language of any kind is nearly impossible. You would have to have a huge group of people not only trained to speak the language perfectly, but train them to teach the language. Then transport these people all around the world so that everyone has the opportunity to learn it. What about the people who are no longer in a structured educational environment? How would you reach them to teach them this language? Would it be grandfathered into the school system? Just start with a particular age group and begin teaching all the children from then on?

        You could never sustain the momentum that it would take to even begin an endeavor like that. Ease of use has nothing to do with the politics and logistics of implementing an international language. Is it intellectually possible for most people to learn one particular set of pidgin? Yes, but the implementation is not.
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      Mar 6 2012: Dear Sarah, yes, it is right. What hearing only some know. There are just as much differences at the sign languages as in the case of the spoken languages.
      Is, however, the philosophy to develop a language, where everyone must learn this one the interesting. Having to submit as a compromise without himself opposite another culture. Everyone having to together learn her if they want to communicate uniformly if possible over the limits.
      Just till now, what the hearing didn't make, "Gestuno" was started with of the deaf people. I already learned for the first time this "language" 40 years ago. And, to this day, "Gestuno" has already developed further.
      "New" language has to be developed on an international basis very with difficulty, however one, she develops. I think this is only possible because there just are people who think over the limits. And I wish that such a philosophy really gives also among hearing people.
      I think that it is possible also for the hearing.
      I could make myself sometimes a project where everybody had to learn together a new language. Everybody had big fun because the sense of achievement was so big. Everybody felt understood enough, and thus itself rather with each other linked, in spite of different own languages.
      It is not just enough to use the language of the other only from politeness. Also adult people are like children, they always want what for themselves.
  • Mar 4 2012: Dear sirs,

    I am not an expert, but I will dream a littel bit:

    1) The sign language could be used as first "baby words". I have a Baby and in the first week you can teach him to get out the tonge. After a par months you can teach him to move the hand showing "come here" and "hello/bye". So maybe you can teach the baby to do the eat and the drink sign (an easy one). (And of course, the baby fast use of the language will open a new world, better care and a faster brain development).

    2) The languages is a nationalistic thema, a change-cost and a barrier benefit vs comon language benefit. This Emotional part has created big problems, but it should not be a big problem in the small sign-language comunity (small in comparison with the overall population). If there is a political will to change the "oficial" sign teaching language, it can be done.

    3) At the end, the language learning influencies come from three points:
    - The access environment (contact with the languages),
    - the usefulnes (direct interest) and
    - the emotional link to the language.
    So the sign language will remain as a side languages. But if it provides the first baby words, an international last resource-language and a languages for deaf persons, enougth interest can be aroused.

    4) There is no sin outside inertia to have different sign languages, so if political emotions are not a problem, it can be change worldwide with the gobernment support. An language improvement should be implemented with base in one of the main sign languages, with special care to the first baby words (tonge, diaper, eat, drink, pain, hello, bye, love, I, you, that/there/to point), and extended baby words (useful words that can be easely learned by a baby before the first year).

    5) The language schould be structurated with 5 levels: a)baby first words, b)baby extended/beginers (), c)middle level, d)advanced and e)teacher. Every level has a usefulnes and a "users target" a)=babies and families, b) teached to the students..
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    Feb 28 2012: Here a video as a project to show, how easy could it be to find new signs for all and all could learn, understand and enjoy this. Try it yourself with your friends. I hope, You understand what I mean with my goal for one language for all of us without to say, we don't need the foreign language anymore.

    http://youtu.be/9kfcHopyM0M
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    Feb 25 2012: I think it's possible to do that. Creating a common sign language for people to understand each other quicker, better. But language as its exist never accept for people to do. Because of curiosity about learning other languages will be lost.
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      Feb 25 2012: Yes, so I am thinking about the Internation Sings as ad and not the only one.