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January 6, 2014 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Shaylee is four years old, a native ASL signer, and an amazingly expressive raconteur. Here's a bilingual link to her version of A Visit from St. Nicholas (a.k.a. The Night Before Christmas), with a breakdown analysing her storytelling technique: Why This Young Girl Is a Masterful Storyteller in Sign Language posted by Joe in Australia (17 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, consider this heart warmed.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:35 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


This is great. I really enjoy watching ASL and total communication (which I'm guessing they might be into by the wide expression they're using).

I'd love a gif of the little girl saying the "SANTA!!!" part.
posted by Miko at 5:52 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I thought it was sweet, but on the other hand there's always something that gets me a little bit about the way that people talk about how kids doing ASL are so advanced because it's such complicated gestures and look at those facial expressions... and what we're basically saying is that it's so novel and adorable that a native speaker of ASL speaks ASL like a native speaker. Yes, it would be complicated for me to learn to do, but so would Mandarin. The analysis just seems a bit patronizing.
posted by Sequence at 6:23 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


The analysis just seems a bit patronizing.

I dunno, I got the impression that the analysis was aimed at people who have essentially zero experience with ASL, think she's cute, and wanted to learn more about what's going on.
posted by aramaic at 6:27 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


I missed a lot of the nuance that was in the discourse. Honestly, that was good storytelling for any four-year-old. Sure there were cuts and editing (like distraction, forgetting parts, etc), but I look at my son trying to tell a story that he's clearly making up and it's a challenge.
posted by plinth at 6:39 AM on January 7


I really love stuff like this that explains ASL like this and translates what the signs actually mean. It was also interesting how much what she did actually looks like straight pantomime even though the explanation says it isn't. I would love to read something that explains the difference.
posted by bleep at 6:48 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


It's not just that she's a native ASL speaker, it's that she's an amazing storyteller. I spent quite a lot of time with native ASL speakers in the past and believe me, most of them are not so fun, even when telling a fun or exciting story.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:49 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


The analysis just seems a bit patronizing.

I appreciate where you're coming from, Sequence, because it is entirely true that there's nothing more remarkable about a child acquiring ASL than there is about a child acquiring any other human language. This article is great, however, because it was written by a linguist who actually knows something about visual languages. There's a lot more going on than just hand gestures. For example, a noun can be introduced in a specific area in the visual field in front of the speaker, and then referenced later in the conversation with a glance towards that specific area. This is an anaphoric reference, something we do in English by introducing a noun and then later referring to it as she, he, it, they, etc. The author describes how the girl signed 'stockings' and then referred to them with her gaze. It's refreshing to read something written about ASL for a wide audience which is linguistically-informed.
posted by tractorfeed at 7:18 AM on January 7 [10 favorites]


Sequence: "kids doing ASL are so advanced because it's such complicated gestures and look at those facial expressions... and what we're basically saying is that it's so novel and adorable that a native speaker of ASL speaks ASL like a native speaker. Yes, it would be complicated for me to learn to do, but so would Mandarin. The analysis just seems a bit patronizing."

It's one thing to acknowledge and respect that ASL is a different language and not just "English using signs," but the implications of how this works in practice can be kind of abstract to wrap your head around. I don't think that a lot of people are aware of how much grammar is conveyed with facial expressions, for example.

Plus, for those of us who don't have a lot of exposure to deaf culture, we already understand the concept (well, our concept) of "reading someone's facial expression," but to understand that in ASL that it's more than just an exaggerated version of that -- well, it's helpful to see that parsed out with an example.
posted by desuetude at 7:52 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Are there any other examples of this kind of analysis of ASL? Or any other form of sign?
posted by divabat at 8:04 AM on January 7


This child is a wonderful storyteller. The way she assumes the different characters had me really see the dad, the reindeer, Santa... she's terrific. And yes, I've seen other people tell stories in ASL but this kid is something special.
posted by OolooKitty at 8:04 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to say thank you for posting this!
posted by michellenoel at 8:42 AM on January 7


I went in expecting to roll my eyes, mostly for the reason that stuff pointing out how great little kids are at things tend to irritate me, but I wound up loving the analysis of how she was telling the story. It taught me some things about ASL grammar and it's interesting to learn that she's doing more than speaking* ASL fluently, she's speaking ASL eloquently. I'm glad this was posted.

*What's the preferred verb in the deaf community? Speak seems right to me to put it on the same terms as spoken languages, but it also seems wrong for the obvious reason that it's not a spoken language.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:44 AM on January 7



*What's the preferred verb in the deaf community? Speak seems right to me to put it on the same terms as spoken languages, but it also seems wrong for the obvious reason that it's not a spoken language.

Signing?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:56 AM on January 7


The analysis just seems a bit patronizing.

As a linguist who's sensitive to this kind of thing (exoticization of other languages, including sign languages) I went in expecting this to be the case (hadn't noticed that the author was Arika Okrent). But my impression upon reading was that the "wow" reactions are largely aimed at Shaylee's masterful use of the various grammatical options available for the purpose of creating an engaging narrative. For example, point 2 discusses Shaylee's use of role shift as a discourse strategy. Being able to manage discourse in a nuanced way is somewhat of a different skill than being a native speaker of a language who can produce grammatical utterances. Or in point 5, the emphasis is on the way she makes the sign for 'old' and how it is evocative of age in the same way that using a certain voice quality in English might be. This goes well beyond "native ASL signer can sign". I think there's a lot for lay readers to learn about ASL grammar from the article, and that's a bonus, but the main message I got was "this girl is a great storyteller", not "wow look a 4-year-old can sign, crazy!" I think it's a really nicely done article that I enjoyed reading.

On preview, seconding St. Peepsburg -- I generally hear the verb "signing" used for the production of ASL and other sign languages.
posted by ootandaboot at 9:04 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


The analysis just seems a bit patronizing.

I agree with the others who thought the analysis was sophisticated. It is a good breakdown of communication especially useful for people who are trying to learn and communicate in ASL as an adult, and even as a hearing adult. The nuances that are described are exactly what make it so much more than a bunch of hand gestures, and they're quite a bit harder to learn to do effectively.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on January 7


I have actually done research on the acquisition of storytelling skills in native ASL signers, and yeah, she's a very good storyteller for her age -- though it's hard to tell what's cut out in the cuts (kids tend to sort of... forget where they are in the story between sentences, and that part was cut out of this), but each part is really well done. Plus, she's adorable! So there's that.
posted by brainmouse at 10:33 AM on January 7


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