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Have you ever looked at writing in a language you do not understand? How do you make sense out of the symbols that make words, sentences etc.? How do you communicate with other people in a ‘signed’ language? One way of describing the entwining flow of communication between individuals and society, and also between individuals in society is to understand a little about symbolic interaction.
Symbolic interactionism can be described as studying the relationship between the self and society as a process of symbolic communications between people. A symbolic interactionist may say the sense of ‘self’ is achieved through language and communication. In this way words reflect symbols representing facts and thoughts as well as feelings.
When a person learns one set of symbols of communication from infancy within their culture and family of origin they are able to communicate comfortably with those around them. However, when a person moves into another culture they are then required to learn a whole set of different language communication symbols to be able to interact with others in that culture or society. People who are deaf or have difficulty with speech form a sub-culture within their community and culture of origin. These people live in a minority group within a society based upon an auditory language. At the same time, these people rely upon a signed or visual language used to communicate with eachother.
Sign language is not universally identical. Languages that are ‘signed’ are specific to their country of origin. An example is Auslan, the official Australian Sign Language. Auslan is different to American Sign Language and both are different to British Sign Language. Sign language between Australia and New Zealand is also different. There are however, some signs that are identical or similar between Auslan, New Zealand and British sign languages.
Auslan is not a signed interpretation of English. Auslan is a recognized minority group language in Australia and has many expressions of vocabulary and grammatical rules that are different from English. Signing is a visual language using non-verbal symbols of communication. Facial expression is just as essential in signing as hand signs and body positions. All these elements of a signed language reflect a specific culture of deaf people including a small percentage of speech impaired people.
Over the coming weeks I will write more articles about signing. Specifically, I will write about my journey of discovery into a different culture within our midst. I have included some links above if you are interested in learning a little more about living and communicating within this amazing culture.
You are welcome to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment.
Sue Bayliss. Cairns, Australia.