Sign here: ASL  unlike any other language

Stephanie Methvin demonstrates American Sign Language to members of the McComb Lions Club.

You might think that large parts of sign language are mostly intuitive, so much that it would be universally understood among the deaf and those who interpret for them.

You would be wrong.

“Sign language is not universal,” said Stephanie Methvin, an American Sign Language instructor and interpreter who lives in Smithdale.

“I went to Russia with a group on a tour, and we saw a deaf person signing outside one of our stops,” she told McComb Lions Club members Tuesday. “The people with me said I should try to talk to him, and I did. We could not communicate at all.”

Methvin, a native of South Louisiana, fell in love with signing after attending a camp in seventh grade where she could take two tracks of learning. She chose ukulele and ASL, and threw herself into learning to sign on her own.

“That was really not the way to do it,” she said.

As a senior in high school, she drove to the Louisiana School for the Deaf to learn more about signing with those who actually use ASL to communicate on a constant basis.

In eighth or ninth grade, “I said I’d interpret for my church’s singing Christmas tree,” Methvin said. “I was spelling out things that a deaf person would never do. I needed to learn how to actually communicate.”

Methvin’s dedication led to fluency and her employment as an interpreter for students at Louisiana State University.

That didn’t mean she was always well prepared to interpret for some the students she was assigned.

Trying, with another interpreter, to interpret for a deaf doctoral student in nuclear science could be quite an adventure.

“Sometimes, the other interpreter and I would just look at each other. (The student) just told us to keep her on the right page in the text book and she could keep up,” Methvin said.

“The best way to interpret is meaning for meaning, rather than word for word. If you don’t understand what’s being said, you can’t interpret it.”

Word-for-word interpretation sometimes isn’t possible in standard ASL, and often isn’t necessary. While word-for-word interpretation could be done to represent words on a page, ASL grammar and syntax doesn’t follow the rules of standard English and typically doesn’t use such things as the articles “a,” “an” or “the,” or words like “than.”

As with spoken languages, sign language can have regional dialects, as well, so a gesture common in the South might not be recognized or could be misinterpreted in the Pacific Northwest.

Methvin said something like telling someone to meet at the Golden Corral, where the Lions meet, could take several forms. She said she would likely use a sign meaning “golden” and another meaning “gather” or “meeting” to signify Golden Corral.

However, members of the deaf community might amongst themselves just sign “G” and “C” if it was familiar enough to those in the deaf culture to recognize that way.

Methvin said meaningless gestures that many hearing people use as a matter of course while talking don’t usually throw off the hearing-impaired.

Members of deaf culture, however, often tap people they’re communicating with frequently because they’re used to having to seek their attention to communicate.

“I have friends who are tapping me constantly, and I’m like, you can stop hitting me, I’m looking right at you,” Methvin said.

She said deaf interpreting services are lacking in Southwest Mississippi, and health care services especially should look into offering more accessibility for deaf patrons.

“I’ve made friends here, mostly older women, who go to doctor’s appointments, and there’s a lot of note-writing,” Methvin said. “I can’t imagine going to these appointments and trying to get medical information and diagnoses and not understanding what’s going on.

“Sometimes deaf people go to the doctor, and they have their child with them, and they interpret, and that’s not great. Some of that information can be heavy for a child.”

Methvin is teaching and ASL choir class for the Pike County Homeschool Association, and has a performance planned Dec. 7 at Southwest Mississippi Community College. with frequently because they’re used to having to seek their attention to communicate.

“I have friends who are tapping me constantly, and I’m like, you can stop hitting me, I’m looking right at you,” Methvin said.

She said deaf interpreting services are lacking in Southwest Mississippi, and health care services especially should look into offering more accessibility for deaf patrons.

“I’ve made friends here, mostly older women, who go to doctor’s appointments, and there’s a lot of note-writing,” Methvin said. “I can’t imagine going to these appointments and trying to get medical information and diagnoses and not understanding what’s going on.

“Sometimes deaf people go to the doctor, and they have their child with them, and they interpret, and that’s not great. Some of that information can be heavy for a child.”

Methvin is teaching and ASL choir class for the Pike County Homeschool Association, and has a performance planned Dec. 7 at Southwest Mississippi Community College.

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