Note from Uncle Dale: In Any Language.

For reasons so complex they would bore even the most stoic and dedicated Sign Language student to tears, I have been steeped in the lives of Sign Language users for whom ASL is a distant second Sign Language or even the third or fourth language they have used in their lives.

This got me thinking about the joys and benefits of surrounding yourself with Sign Languages from other countries.

You never really understand a concept until you see how that idea is presented in a language foreign to you. It will almost always change your perspective on how you have used a term (perhaps differently or even wholly inaccurately to the meaning as you now see it) or can be a little mind blowing regarding how differently two cultures integrate (or don’t) an idea you felt was “universal”.

There are some commonalities of course, I mean how many Signs for “drink” could there be? But there are vast differences in myriad areas of thought when meaning is applied to a cultural matrix.

If you want a good place to start this journey try comparing various Sign Language lexicons regarding gender as they are produced in different countries and regions globally, including ASL. These are will tell you a great deal about the history of gender role stereotypes worldwide. They seem to act as a kind of time capsule for how gender has been viewed through a lens of cultural history, but, be prepared in some cases, you may not to like what you find.

In the end I encourage everyone to experience fluent Sign Language from a country other than your own, if for no other reason than to realize how strikingly similar and vastly different we each are when we look out from what David Foster Wallace called our “skull sized kingdoms.”

One time I was in the Augsburg Hauptbahnhof and I spotted a group of Deaf Germans in the bar. They ranged in age from their 20’s to… well over their 20’s. It took the group of us about 20 minutes to come up with a “Trade Language” moving between German Sign Language and ASL (it helped that I had some experience with German Sign Language from my days with the National Theatre of the Deaf).

My Dad called me when it was time to board the train and asked “was that hard?”


“Is it because German Sign Language is that different from ASL?”

No. It’s because they are drunk.

Drunk is drunk.

Drunk is drunk in any language.

Rule 761

What do Deaf people think about X?

Oh shoot! My term as the unanimously elected spokes person for ANY Deaf person on this earth expired last week!

Guess you’ll have to do this the old fashioned way. Ask your question, not just to a person who is Deaf, but to EACH and EVERY person who is Deaf; go ahead, I’ll interpret for you.

Rule 759

Have you ever wondered why for so many years hearing educators for children who are Deaf refused to learn ASL? Isn’t that like saying:

“I’m a pilot but I refuse to learn any flying language! Don’t say variometer to me! Just call it the thing that shows how fast the ‘staying on the ground impaired travel thing’ goes up and down. Don’t even get me started on the Attitude Indicator– call it the wings in the right place doohickey…”

Random Thoughts by Uncle Dale: Love and Libel on a T-shirt.

Several years ago I was giving a final. My desk was in the back of the classroom and so I was looking at my students backs. I was busy correcting final essays when I got a text.

The text just said “look up.”

When I looked up I saw that while my mind was on essays every student in the class had put on the same t-shirt.

This t-shirt

It was one of the best moments I ever had as a professor.

Someone asked me, “isn’t that insulting?”


Now, if they had written it on the bathroom wall then maybe. But they took the time and the effort to silkscreen it on the t-shirt. I saw it for what it was immediately; a love note.

I love my students. There are many things about teaching that I do not miss. I do not miss correcting papers at midnight. I do not miss getting placed on yet another committee that adds to my work without adding to my pay. I do not miss faculty meetings.

But I miss my students.

I can see every one of their faces. I follow them as they grow and develop as working interpreters. I love to see when they get a new job, or have a baby or get married or reach any milestone in their lives outside the classroom.

And I love that they would take the time and effort to zing me on a t-shirt.

I have now gone back to my roots. I am working full time as an attorney at a law firm. The other day the student who originally made these shirts asked me if I wanted another batch.

Um. Yes!

They just arrived and they are beautiful.

The staff at Ascent Law has snatched many of them up, but I have some left. A lot of smalls and mediums. A few larges (they tend to run a little large).

If you want one send me an email to $25 plus shipping. I can accept Venmo and PayPal.

The proceeds will be donated to a worthy cause and I am accepting suggestions as to which cause. Make your suggestion when you order.

I promise these will go fast, especially the larger sizes so I would jump on these sooner rather than later.

And I mean come on. Who doesn’t want to have a shirt that says what almost everyone who meets me is thinking within ten minutes.

Damn you Dale Boam.

Damn me indeed!

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