Once again we have reached a controversy over a particular ASL word or name. This is an old, recurring discussion that has reached new levels of intensity with how easily the Internet brings our ASL Deaf community together. I'm writing this because I want to encourage our community to dig deep, to reach beyond the superficial arguments.
As an ASL speaker, my personal ASL is the result of my background, my upbringing, my social groups, the educational institutions I've attended, and so on. Those circumstances all influence how my language comes forth. This is not a passive process -- I am not an "articulate" puppet. I make active decisions on how I speak ASL based on my experiences, current situations, who I am speaking with, and so on.
A lot of people say, "Oh, I prefer to allow the community to decide on ASL words." What they're really doing is allowing English fingerspelling to become their default. (It's not only the fingerspelled English word that gets entangled in their ASL; the English context and parasitic potentially audist and linguicist beliefs are dumped as baggage into the conversation.) Those people are claiming passivity to excuse their active decisions.
To speak a language is to make active decisions in expressing oneself, whether it is a series of spontaneous utterances or an extended, carefully-thought-out monologue.
We need to practice mindfulness with our ASL. This is a serious, introspective process that examines ourselves. We need to ask ourselves, "Are my word choices and phrasing in line with how I see myself and with my inner beliefs?" The constructive habit of regularly checking in with ourselves is something that can help us as individuals, and in turn help our ASL community in general.
How is it that new words appear in places where ASL Deaf people congregate, such as schools, universities, and major events? Social contagion easily spreads linguistic concepts through the human need to connect with others. This contagion can be both positive and negative -- so how can the emphasis be on a healthy spread?
We need to accept social responsibility for our ASL and this starts with ourselves as individuals. Our life experiences have an impact on how we speak ASL, and how we speak ASL has power. It is our responsibility to be willing to be conscientious and flexible with word usage, and to be creative in coming up with new ways in ASL phrasing.
We have the social responsibility to be mindful as we actively speak ASL. Let's ensure that the social contagion in our ASL community is this mindfulness, conscientiousness, and new depths of thoughtfulness.
It's your turn now. How do you practice mindfulness in your ASL? What thoughts do you have to share?
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