45 | Prompts for Non-Verbal Communication

64 Arts



This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts, specifically the art of Sign Language.

On the way home from work, yesterday, I was first cut off by one driver as I tried to merge into another lane and then blocked by two more. This prompted the usual rise in ire and more than one bit of non-standard–but quite universal–sign language.

I’m not exactly proud of that, but it does fit in well with our exploration of sign language, yes?

Rather than focus further on ASL, here are some prompts to get you thinking about the other sorts of signs we’re giving and receiving.

1. Picture this: Your new college roommate/partner at the office is from another country, doesn’t speak English, and you don’t speak their language either. How do you communicate? How do you accomplish goals?

2. Observation time! Wherever you spend your day–be it at the office, in a classroom, or on public transit–look at the people around you and examine their body language. What stories do they tell with how they carry themselves, where they put their arms, the expression on their face?

3. Spend a day not talking or writing, instead get what you need with hand, body, and facial gestures. How successful are you in getting your point across? (Perhaps best on a weekend–don’t want you giving your boss the silent treatment!) Alternately, film a “silent movie” and send it to a friend–see if they can translate it without hints.

I’d love to hear if you try any of these prompts and how they turn out!

45 | Sign a Song

64 Arts

You know how when you go to buy a blue car and you suddenly start seeing blue cars every-freaking-where? It’s not that there are suddenly more blue cars on the road, you’re just noticing them more. You’re tuned in. Aware.

That tends to be the case for a lot of things, but then sometimes the universe is kind enough to pepper whatever circles you travel in with a little more of the things you need. As was the case when this gem showed up in my RSS feed last week:

Direct link for the feed readers: ASL Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know”

Isn’t that awesome?!

And if you click through to some of the other videos, there are plenty by the interpreter in the video, Azora Telford (there’s a great interview about creating the video over at Planet DeafQueer), and others that are just phenomenal. They’re also a great example of the non-fingerspelling side of sign language. Knowing the alphabet is one step, but fingerspelling everything would take a long time to get anywhere, so single and combination signs have been devised to make communication easier, though it’s truly a lot to learn!

For an idea of the types of signs that are out there, you can see video demonstrations over at the ASL Pro Dictionary. Some signs are fairly intuitive–like those that point to a part of the body or, like in the video above, the sign for “know” that pantomimes the tapping of the head (you’ve probably used a similar gesture when you’re talking to someone and can’t quite remember whatever it is you’re trying to think of)–while others might take a little more thinking to really grok. (Check out the sign for Xerox, for instance). Of course, if you’d like to learn ASL in a more formal way, there are courses available online at ASL University (including some free lessons if you just want to check them out). I’m not affiliated with any of these sites, I’m just offering them in case anyone wants to dig a little deeper on their own.

45 | Sign Language 101

64 Arts
Signs Language font  by zanatlija

Signs Language font by zanatlija (downloadable from dafont)

Moving onto what I’m going to unofficially call the “language arts” section of the 64 Arts, we’re starting with the quiet one:

45 Sign Language
Using the mudra, or symbolic gestures of the theater.

Three things immediately come to mind when I think of sign language…

1-In elementary song, for some assembly or another, our class learned a song in sign language about friendship. Searching online I was able to find the lyrics but not a video of anyone singing/signing it:

Friends, everybody needs friends.
Someone to share your day with me, to cheer up when you’re feeling blue.
Friends, would you like to be friends?
Would you like to share the day with me, to be who you want that you wanna be.
We all need each other, that’s what friends are for,
So if your see someone, without a smile, give ’em one of yours.
Friends, would you like to be friends?
Would you like to share the day with me?
To be who you want that you wanna be.
Friends, would you like to be friends?
Because, your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends, and your friends are MY FRIENDS TOOO.

I remember a handful of the signs (bad pun totally unintended), including the linked index fingers sign for “friends,” but not much else. Still, it’s something.

2-Seeing The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft when I was in middle school. Knowing this Art was coming up I found it on Amazon Instant Video and watched it again–I forgot how “old” the 1962 looked, especially in the opening scenes, but it was still amazing to watch. I see that Disney remade the movie with Hallie Kate Eisneberg but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it.

If you want to read something rather extraordinary, look at Helen Keller’s autobiography. There’s actually more than one, but The Story of My Life is available via U Penn’s digital library and it really is a fascinating read.


3-The signing monkey from the Madagascar movies. Not only are they a) monkeys and b) hilarious, I watched the movie once with an ASL interpreter and she about fell off the couch when she say the flinging poo scene and confirmed that they accurately animated the question, using the more vulgar term at that!

(Direct link for the feed readers: Monkeys vs. Tom Wolfe)

There, I think I’ve successfully brought the conversation down out of the rafters with that last one. Still, sign language (be it ASL or one of the other hundreds of types out there) is really impressive, and I have amazing respect for anyone able to communicate with it. I also find it fascinating how different cultures and communities create their own shared signals organically.