Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Can Sign Language Become Universal?

The first time I was introduced to sign language was for one class in sixth grade when my teacher gave a lesson on the different English letters in sign language. When I asked my teacher how people sign letters in other languages, I found out that there were different kinds of sign language. There are currently nearly 200 different forms of sign language throughout the entire world. With all of these different kinds of sign language it starts to begin the question of will there ever be a universal sign language. Currently in the United States there is a most common form known as ASL or American Sign Language.
According to Mental Floss "English can be represented through finger spelling or artificial systems like Cued Speech. But these are codes for spoken or written language, not languages themselves."
 This begins the question for me of, if this is how English is done, how are other languages done differently? The more I begin to think about sign language the more I begin to question why have we not begun to develop a universal sign language? It the past, it seemed to be simple reasoning that we didn't have a way to communicate across nations simultaneously to find a common ground on sign language. But who is to say that we are not currently at that point in history?

I propose a system, that may take up to a decade to complete, but once completed could have great success. I propose that we do create a universal sign language, that can be taught to a basic standard to all people. Currently all of the different sign languages must have someone who can be considered an expert in the that field. Imagine if we could create a convention of all of these different sign language experts to come together once a year for a weekend to attempt to create this master piece. There would most likely be some conflict about what would stand for what, and how the logistics of flow of sentences would run, but how could there not be with creating a new language. For this, there would have to be a general understand before starting this project that the importance of this is for a universal sign language to be create, and not for one previous sign language to have more influence over another. I believe this process of making a new language could take a decade for things to be decided.
Once the new universal sign language is completed there still needs to be a yearly meeting of the greatest minds, to decide what words in sign language are universal and need to be updated. The next step is to start developing a list of words that are being used only by certain areas. For example someone might use the word "cool" which could mean cold or pleasing. If one area was using "cool" as pleasing, and the rest of the world was using it for cold, there would be an update to the list saying this region is using the sign "cool" to represent pleasing. This would create a list of potential words to become universal, as well as creating an active list for people who travel to areas to know what slang terms are being used.
The next step is to teach it to our children. While in high school and middle school, I had the opportunity to learn a different language for two years. What if we began to teach this new universal sign language, bit by bit to every child in the world so that by the time they were all out of middle school, basic conversations could be had with anyone in the world.
I talked with a friend about her experience when she went to a foreign country last summer, and one of the hardest parts for her was not knowing the language or being able to communicate with locals. Imagine how much easier life would have been if she had spend 8+ years learning how to communicate with everyone, and could look up a list that was being kept of different slang terms used in the area she traveled to. This could be a solution to many problems in the world, but how would we know if we never try.
Initial problems noticed with this proposal,
1. Who would keep these records up to date?
2. Who would be chosen as the expert of the language?
3. Why don't we just create a universal language that's verbal?

My initial responses to these questions are
1a. We could develop an organization, whose job is to strictly update files on this universal sign language and nominate representatives each year for committee.
2a. To have a job in this organization, a basic qualification should be how to decide who is the expert of the language, and after a few years how many people truly need to be at this committee.
3a. I don't believe there is truly a reason why not, but I believe that completing a non-verbal language first, would be quicker and easier to incorporate, then moving into a verbal universal language later on. An easy answer is also because less people would have to change everything we know about our language, and sign language could be written in current languages to better help understand the transition. 

Questions for viewers
1. Do you believe a universal language is possible in any format?
2. If so, how could we decide how to approach this in a different way?
3. Do you believe we are currently in a generation, that could pull off creating a new language?

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