The Power of ASL
A Society Supporting Language, Literacy, and
Performing Arts in the Signed Modality
A Newsletter of the Society for American Sign Language
Discussing the Difference between Sign and Signed
By Sherman Wilcox, University of New Mexico
Allow me to describe three hypothetical scenarios:
Scenario 1: I recently overheard a conversation at my university. Student A was excitedly telling
his friend, Student B, that he was taking a new foreign language class. Student B asked, “Which
language are you learning?” Student A replied, “Sign language. So I can communicate with deaf
people.” Student B replied, “That’s so cool!”
Scenario 2: I recently overheard a conversation at my university. Student A was excitedly telling
his friend, student B, that he was taking a new foreign language class. Student B said, “Cool! Which
language are you learning?” Student A replied, “Speech language. So I can communicate with hearing
people.” Student B replies, “Huh? That doesn’t make any sense at all! WHICH LANGUAGE are you
learning? Spanish, Japanese, Arabic?”
What’s my point?
Speaking, signing, and writing (I’ll offer a scenario about writing soon) describe ways that we
can produce a language. Speaking does not name a language, and that’s why in Scenario 2, student
A’s answer of “speech language” doesn’t make any sense. His friend wants the name of the language.
In Scenario 1, when student A replies “sign language,” he is also not naming a language. He’s
naming the way a language can be produced. And yet student B didn’t balk at his friend’s statement.
He thought he was naming a language, ‘sign language’.
It’s apples and oranges: the term for the way a language is produced is the apple, and the
name for the language is an orange. Don’t confuse apples for oranges.
(Continue on page 8)
The Power of ASL
Summer 2018 – Issue 10