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Deaf Definitions

American Sign Language (ASL): a unique three-dimensional language with its own grammatical rules and syntax (sentence structure), and is every bit as precise, versatile, and subtle as English. Remember, ASL is not English and a person cannot sign ASL and speak at the same time (if this occurs, it is not true ASL, but more like English).


BIBI (bilingual-bicultural): This is an educational system that is the Deaf community’s preferred system of educating deaf students today.


CC: closed-captioned or closed-captioning; subtitle-like captioning on television.


Coda: ‘Child of Deaf Adults,’ which means hearing children of deaf parents. Codas grow up in the Deaf community and many become sign language interpreters or work in the Deaf community as adults.


Clerc, Laurent: the French Deaf man who accompanied Gallaudet to the U.S. to help establish the first Deaf School in the United States.  Clerc taught Gallaudet French Sign Language (FSL) and Gallaudet taught Clerc English.  ASL has roots in FSL, which originated from Clerc’s influence.

DPN: The Deaf President Now or Gallaudet Revolution was a watershed event for the US Deaf community and Deaf culture.  In 1988 Deaf students, staff, and Americans successfully pushed for the election of Gallaudet’s first deaf president, I. King Jordan.  His powerful message that “Deaf people can do anything except hear” reverberated throughout the nation and world (Erting, et. al, 1994; Lane, et. al., 1996). 

Deaf (upper-case D): this refers to Deaf people who make up local communities and a national community of ASL users. This refers to Deaf people who consider themselves a linguistic minority.

deaf (lower-case d): deaf people who are not part of the Deaf community and do not know ASL; a general term and an audiological condition of hearing loss

Deaf Culture: All the people within the Deaf community and their local cultures contribute to what is Deaf culture in the United States.  Deaf culture is a collection of bonds that hold Deaf people together.  These bonds include: a common sign language (ASL), mores, and values, among others. 

Deaf community: Deaf people with a history as a community that goes back for generations.  They have a defined system of beliefs and patterns of behavior which have been passed down for generations, and the live within a society of people who hear.

Deafie(s) Slang a Deaf person(s).

Fingerspelling: the manual alphabet in sign language. Fingerspelling is used primarily for names, places, and objects without a sign.

GA: an abbreviation for "Go Ahead" used on TTYs.

Gallaudet University: the world’s first and still only, liberal-Arts College for the Deaf, which is located in Washington D.C.

Hands-On Signing: This is used by some deaf-blind people. It is an adaptation of signing in which the receiver remains in physical contact with the signer, so she can feel the handshapes and movement of the signer's hands, and feel the fingerspelling.


Hard of Hearing (HOH): A person who is able to hear speech using assistive devises, can sometimes use the phone and listen to music. Some HOH people use ASL or other sign systems, but often have fluency in English as well. Often the person is raised in the hearing community and associates more with the hearing culture, although that is not always the case.


Hearie(s): Slang a hearing person(s).


Hearing (upper-case H): a general term for the Hearing community.


Hearing (lower-case h): a general term for hearing people when refers to their ability to hear. 


hearing impaired: This is a label which was created by hearing people to be politically correct, although Deaf people do not like this term because they do not feel that they are impaired in any way. The Deaf community prefers the terms Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

International Sign (IS):  IS was created in order for Deaf people to communicate more effectively at international Deaf conferences.  There is a dominant influence from ASL and European sign languages thus African and Asian signers find IS considerably more difficult to understand.  IS does not have a fixed grammar, so some argue it's better defined as a vocabulary rather than a complete language.  IS cannot be learned in the classroom, but by socialization with international deaf individuals. This is the current sign language used at international Deaf conferences

Late-deafened (or latened deaf): A person who lost his/her hearing as an adult.  Most late-deafened people are raised in the hearing community and do not use ASL, because they connect more with the hearing world.


Oral deaf: A deaf person who lives in the hearing world by reading lips and learning how to speak. Oral deaf persons typically do not learn ASL or participate in the Deaf community.


PSE (Pidgin Sign English): mixed ASL and English signs, signed following the English language (remember ASL is not English).  

Relay center message relayed between a deaf person using TTY and hearing person on the phone through the operator.

Rochester Method a method of simultaneous use of speech and fingerspelling only (no signs) in education.  This is not a true language.

Sign Language A visual, gestural language used by Deaf people, which uses the hands, arms, upper body, head and face to convey meaning.  It differs from spoken and written languages in that it uses three dimensions to express relationships and facial expressions and so it has a completely different grammatical structure compared with a spoken language.

Signed English: A sign language based on English used by many late-deafened and oral deaf individuals. A person who knows Signed English will not understand ASL unless they are bilingual in both languages. Signed English is not a true language and is confusing and hard to understand for native ASL users.

SK: an abbreviation for "Stop Keying" on TTYs to end conversations; meaning "bye"

TDD: a modern term for Telephone Device for the Deaf; a telephone device for the deaf, although most Deaf individuals still sign TTY.

TTY: a traditional term for telecommunication device for the deaf (Teletype).

Oralism: An aggressive, imperialistic school of thought that holds that Deafness is a condition to be treated, rather than a culture to be savored.

Speech-reading: The practice of getting meaning from a person's lip movements; also known as lip-reading. Used mostly by the late-deafened and hard-of-hearing individuals, who have a lifetime of contextual hearing understanding of the language being spoken.

Video Relay Services: Video Relay Services provides a new communication tool that allows the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community to communicate effectively and naturally with the hearing world through American Sign Language (ASL).  VRS uses the Internet to provide an audio/video link to a qualified, certified Video Interpreter (VI) who interprets between the visual language of ASL and the auditory language of a hearing person

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