Sign Languages – ASL, SEE, PSE, Cued Speech

Advice for Service Providers When Requesting Sign Language Interpreting Services

Did you know that “sign language” is not a ‘one size fits all’ language? To ensure optimal communication, it is important for service providers to question the sign language style that best fits the Deaf person. Sign Language Agencies often receive requests from service providers who are unaware of the differences. Many assume that all deaf people speak the same language. Many assume that sign language is the same around the world.

With this in mind, a summary of various sign language styles used in the U.S. might be helpful.

Signing Exact English (SEE) – Just like it says, this is a system that matches sign language to the exact English translation. In 1972, this was one of the first sign languages to be published. Imagine a visual counterpart to match written and spoken English. This method will include word endings (i.e.  ing, ed, ) not gestured in PSE or ASL.  Sentences are signed word for word in English.

American Sign Language (ASL) – This sign language employs hands, arms, head, facial expression and body language to facilitate total communicatoion. ASL is not the same as written or spoken English. American Sign Language features an entirely different vocabulary and grammar.  ASL was referred to as “Ameslan” in the 1960’s, but today it is simply called American Sign Language or ASL. In the United States, ASL is the most common sign language used among the Deaf. The syntax and grammar are distinct from other spoken languages, including English. When requesting an interpreter, this is most often the expected sign language unless specified otherwise.

Pidgin Signed English (PSE) – Best described as a combination of English and American Sign Language.  A simplified language derived from two or more languages is called a pidgin.  Culturally Deaf people, signing with each other, often use ASL, but many use a mixture of ASL and English. PSE is most frequently used by those who use spoken English as their primary language.

Cued Speech – Cued Speech is a system of communication used with and among deaf or hard of hearing people. It is a phonemic-based system which makes traditionally spoken languages accessible by using a small number of hand shapes to represent consonants in different locations near the mouth (representing vowels). Cued Speech serves as a supplement to lipreading. It is now used with people with a variety of language, speech, communication and learning needs. Cued Speech was created in 1966 by Dr. R. Orin Cornett at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Deaf / Blind – Remember ‘The Miracle Worker’? The story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan? Although Annie Sullivan was  legally blind, she connected with Helen Keller by fingerspelling into her hand. Once Helen made the connection between ‘the object’ and the fingerspelling, her world opened up and she began to learn a language with which to communicate. This method of signing into the hands of the Deaf / Blind is still used today.

As you may have guessed, this is a partial list….but probably the most common sign language styles requested. By far, ASL leads the pack and the majority of Deaf people we meet consider this their language.



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About Evelyn

Evelyn Hunter is a SODA with years of experiential study in Deaf Culture. She attended Gallaudet University to immerse herself in this unique deaf world while working for the University and studying sign language to hone her skills. Evelyn has served in training, relationship sales, and marketing -- always seeking to expand awareness of Deaf Culture and the unique challenges the deaf face on a daily basis. The Sign Language Company has recently established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a website with a blog, as Evelyn coordinates the marketing and outreach efforts for the agency. Her goal is to attract new clients seeking exceptional service, while maintaining optimal relationships with clients who have selected The Sign Language Company for over 20 years.

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