Digital publication - Page 20

Sign Language My Inspired Journey

By Hannah Mary

Sacred Ground Herbals

Brick, NJ

I received an email from a guy, named Josh, claiming to be my cousin. He explained that our fathers are brothers. I had never known about him growing up but an uncle did confirm he is in fact my cousin. He wanted to meet and get to know his father’s side of the family, he was also interested in the same hobbies as me and wanted to get together for that as well. So we met at a diner.

Josh is Deaf. We spent time writing back and forth and passing this piece of paper between us with words scribbled noting our similarities. Time passed quickly and we didn’t get much said. We promised to get together again very soon. When I went back to my classes at the community college I looked to see if there any sign language classes I could take to make communication faster and easier. I already had a basic understanding of the alphabet being I lost most of my hearing at a young age due to infections and such. With the help of an amazing doctor I did get most of it back, but not without other hearing issues. I found a class and jumped right in. In my first class, I met a wonderful lady, Randi, who encouraged me to take the next class with her, then another and another. I fell in love with Sign Language!

I loved the way our words and feelings can be transformed into expressions of the hand. Everything was described in extraordinary detail and this made the spoken word seem rather dull. The use of space to describe where and how items are used and placed is amazing. Nothing is said without the exaggerated use of facial expressions, which can definitely look strange to non-signers. This use of facial expression provides signs with much more meaning, as it would be similar to voice fluctuation but with flare! Before I knew it I was on track to get an Associates degree with my major in Sign Language Interpreting. Of course I never intended to be an interpreter. I just wanted to keep in touch with my new friends and family.

During my time in the program I became VP of the Sign Club. I immersed myself in the Deaf Community and met many wonderful people. I attended many events where sign language was the only means of communication. I was thrilled. Of course at first, most the time I had no idea what they were saying because my level of understanding was not great to say the least. I latched on to a few students who had or where graduating from the same program for some help. Another affliction in my life had changed the way I process information. Ironically my doctors told me that I am a very visual person and this is why I process Sign Language in a different way than most hearing people do. How lucky for me! After a while I began to help the students who came in after me. I was able to change their perspective to better understand this new awesome way of communicating. I would visit my cousin and practice signing as much as possible.

As I entered into the Deaf Culture and History portion of my education, I was shocked to learn that Sign langue is not universal. There is different meaning behind signs in different cultures simply because the cultures are different so Sign could not be universal. Here in America there’s American Sign Language and English sign. “ASL (American Sign Language) is a complete, unique language developed by deaf people, for deaf people and is used in its purest form by people who are Deaf. Being its own language, it not only has its own vocabulary, but also its own grammar that differs from English. Signed Exact English is a system to communicate in English through signs and finger spelling. Signed Exact English, in most cases, uses English grammar (that is, you are signing English). The vocabulary is a combination of ASL signs, modified ASL signs, or unique English signs.” (Definition provided by There is so much history that surrounds ASL and SEE. Have you ever wondered where the football huddle came from???

I graduated from the Sign Language program and continue to use Sign daily. I teach my children, family and friends. Being able to sign to my daughter from across the store to grab milk without yelling is definitely a plus! I have recently started to share this wonderful language with others by teaching and tutoring. I am able to explain the concepts a bit differently because of my life experiences. My relationship with my now favorite cousin Josh has flourished. I have many friends who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. I have the ability to intermingle with both my hearing and Deaf friends.

Sign language is fascinating and beautiful. It is a complex language and can be challenging but it is definitely worth learning and an inspirational journey. I am blessed to be able to share it and help others become aware and involved with its beauty.