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EDITORIAL Deja Vu Recently, Joseph Stedt, a colleague at Cameron University in Lawton, OK, and I reviewed the literature ori the "manualmanual " controversy of the 19th century. We were concerned by the findings of our library research, (1) because we had been aware neither of the extent of the controversy nor of the depths of bitterness that it engendered; and (2) because of indications that education of the deaf is about to witness a replay of the unnecessary conflict of a century ago. Over the years there has been a bewildering variety of signrelated terms. Asamplewouldincludenaturalsigns, methodical signs, American Sign Language, Pidgin Sign English, Ameslish, Siglish, Manual English, Signed English, Colloquial Signs, Seeing Essential English, etc. Basically, however, the languages and systems have been placed in one of two categories on the basis of whether they were based primarily on written or spoken English, or whether they had developed outside of the educational setting independent of English. Examples of Sign-Related Terms Examples of the first category are the English-based system of Methodical Signs developed by Laurent Clerc at the American School for the Deaf before 1820, Signing Exact English, and Signed English. These systems were not designed to be free-standing, separate languages. Rather, they represent what have been termed Manual Codes on English. Within this context, they are supposed to facilitate presentation and discussion of academic content within a classroom setting with varying degrees of fidelity to standard English. For example, Clerc's original Methodical Signs contained more English morphemes than the modern Signed English. Natural Signs, Colloquial Signs, and the present American Sign Language are quite different from the invented systems in that they were not developed by educators. Instead they grew from the communication needs of deaf communities. Although such systems might be influenced by English, they, in fact, constitute different languages with differing grammatical structures. Assessing the Literature In our reading of the 19th century literature, two strong impressions developed. —First was the harshness with which supporters of Natural Signs attacked proponents of Methodical Signs and vice versa. —Second was the remarkable staying power exhibited by both Natural Signs and Methodical Signs in the face of attacks by detractors. Natural Signs were criticized for having no grammar, for lacking abstractness, and for being different from English. Some educators mistakenly thought that Natural Signs were universal but represented a lower level of development. Methodical Signs received at least as much criticism. They were dismissed as being artificial and awkward and as having little, or no, real value in the world outside the classroom. It was argued that, no matter how much classroom exposure there was, deaf children seldom, if ever, relied on Methodical Signs in their everyday communication. In fact, the creators of the first Methodical Signs were attacked as charlatans. Given the extent of the vilification by their critics, it is a testament to their power and utility that both Natural Signs and Methodical Signs continued in use through most of the 19th century. Dr. Stedt and I concluded that both types of signing survived because they filled essential roles in the education and lives of deaf individuals and that attempts to do away with either type would inevitably end in failure. Given the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the energies of some of the most gifted educators of the deaf of the last century were drained by preoccupation with the "manual-manual ' controversy at the expense of progress in other important areas. Who knows how much improvement might have been achieved in curriculum, teaching methods, or vocational training if they had received as much attention as the methods controversy? Can We Avoid Another Controversy? It appears that we maybe on the verge of another manualmanual controversy. Instead of Natural versus Methodical Signs, however, today we are faced with a possible ASL versus Manual Code on English controversy. The names may have changed, but the arguments are distressingly familiar. There are professionals who oppose ASL on the basis of its difference from English or its lack of a written form. Recently there has been more and more vocal opposition to the use of Manual Codes on English, either separately or in combination...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0375
Print ISSN
0002-726X
Pages
p. 201
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-22
Open Access
No
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