Friday, March 16, 2007

Me hold my gun? Let me show you my bullets.

Barb DiGi is going to show you some brief clips of the film, "Preservation of Sign Language" from 1913 showing how ALL speakers who used the sign for DEAF. She did watch a series of two videotapes twice! Did she actually see DEAF-CLOSE sign even once in that film? You see for yourself. She is not interested about labeling whatsoever but she is more fascinated about the origin of deaf sign and why it has evolved. She believes the EAR-MOUTH sign came first then it changed to EAR-CLOSE sign during the years of oral practice in most schools for the deaf then it went back to EAR-MOUTH sign.

Also she provides her analysis whether DEAF-CLOSE sign is supposed to be used in a formal setting based on the Linguistics of ASL book, 1st edition. On page 315, it said that "it is true of the two-handed form of DEAF, which is used in formal settings, and the form of DEAF produced at the ear location is used in informal settings." It also said that "the sign used in informal settings would be totally unacceptable in formal settings." (Valli and Lucas). There is even a sketch distinguishing both signs. Now when the book said that DEAF-CLOSE was considered a formal sign, then tell me why all of these speakers in the film used the EAR-MOUTH sign, not even EAR-CLOSE sign, in a formal setting (very formal since filming was rare and that the speakers were talking to the audience)? Perhaps that formal rule applied later on in the midst of the century when DEAF-CLOSE sign was created around the time that the infamous Milan decision had more ripple effect.

If you are able to find a clip of DEAF-CLOSE sign from 1913 -1920, please do share. Barb is just developing her theory based on the documents she has seen so far. It is healthy for us to discuss about this issue of deaf history as long as we open our minds and respect each other :-)

So hypothetically "signing" (instead of speaking), if EAR-CLOSE sign actually existed in early 1900's, I find it interesting that the speakers in the videotape did not even use that sign when presenting to an audience. If they were to use EAR-CLOSE sign to get a job as teachers or administrators, obviously it was for political reasons and that they were oppressed.

Special thanks to Sign Media for granting permission to tape some of the clips! Please visit if you want to order these videotapes.


Jessica said...


Thanks for sharing the films with us. I remember seeing it before.

Notice how they signed EAR MOUTH? It seemed more pronounced on the lips compared to today. Mostly we move the sign to next to the lips or on the chin but not ON the lips.

I have another thought, what if the EAR CLOSE sign was already around but not shown on the film like maybe in other areas?

If EAR CLOSE was used for formal purposes, why is that? Why can't EAR MOUTH be used for formal too?

Deaf Niches said...

That is interesting... since like Jessica mentioned in her comment, the sign EAR MOUTH was more pronounced than DEAF MUTE (the finger landing directly on the mouth, instead of on the side of the mouth.)

Thanks for sharing it with us...

Why don't you try contacting the oldest deaf centurian who lives in Rochester, by the name of Cliff and ask him about it? Would open a fascinating subject on the evolution of ASL...

Lantana said...

I think I mentioned before (someplace!) that I feel the "ear closed" sign is more appropriate for songs and for poetry. I see no harm there. But for everyday conversation, no. I think people are mixed up and confused due to Total Communication, SEE, PSE, etc. etc. Ugh. Most of us use a little bit of all of the above!


Mikey said...

You Nailed It!

Thank you for bringing up such fascinating facts.
Now for certain bloggers, please quit badgering others, accept that all of us have different opinions and we're using this wonderful platform--vlogging--to bring us together and discuss many different fascinating things...perhaps this is a great time to start thinking about "redefining" the terms, Deafmute, Deafhood and Deaf.

Thank you Barb!

Toby Welch said...

Thank you for sharing with us. I don't see EAR-CLOSE. I wonder when EAR-CLOSE started. I believe after 1930. Interesting. For me, I feel comfortable with EAR-MOUTH or MOUTH-EAR. I know many Deaf people confused with EAR-CLOSE. It doesn't bother me if someone prefers to use EAR-CLOSE.

Anonymous said...

I caught George's fringerspelling "deaf-Mute" and then he signed EAR MOUTH. (which sign?)

Anonymous said...

Very moving blog, Barb!

One note I want to make: As our language evolves, linguists have noted that our signs have gotten smaller and smaller. So this may not have to do with formality, but with our language's evolution.

I forgot where I read that... But I will get back to you on where I got that information, I promise!

~ Deaf Pundit

Anonymous said...

"It is like this in Germany also. The German deaf people and the French deaf people look up at us American deaf people with eyes of jealousy. They look upon us Americans as a jailed man chained at the legs might look upon a man free to wander at will."

George Veditz used his fingerspelling "Deaf-Mute" and he started signing Deaf Mouth "deaf"

Anonymous said...

One of the best transcripts: “The Preservation of the Sign Language” by George W. Veditz

Jay said...

My comment

Anonymous said...

You just killed Carl's academic integrity and proved that you are more scholarly than he is. You investigated this more than he did and provided a lot more academic context. Way to go in investigating this without having a knee-jerk reaction like others tend to.


Anonymous said...


Bingo! You did it right. As for the Carl-Mike S. saga, the deaf-mouth sign is nomally for all of us to use long time. I have NEVER signed "ear-close" at all.

In my opinion, I do not think that the "ear-close" is REALLY not a formal sign language.

So, I dedicate the 1913-1920's to respect the "ear-mouth" as a formal sign language. Therefore, we nationally use the "deaf-mouth" from now on.

Case Closed!

I am hoping that President Davila and BOTs will recognize and dedicate to George Veditz Language and Communication Center!

White Ghost
Gallaudet Alumni '88

Amy said...

Great Job Barb!

You made the teaching profession very proud with your top-notch research and presentation.

Big smiles,
Amy Cohen Efron

Barb DiGi said...

To everyone: Thanks for your comments and you are welcome for your thanks!

Jessica: Good question! That's what I am trying to find out. Why make EAR-CLOSE a formal sign whilst EAR-MOUTH was used on stages that are considered formal settings back in early 1900's?

Deaf Niches: I have thought about contacting Cliff but remmy he uses Rochester Method so it may be least likely he would use these signs. But heck it won't hurt to ask if I could!

Lantana: I know what you are saying that it looks more poetic using EAR-CLOSE sign but I feel that we need to know the true intention why that sign was created later on. For me, I don't think I would want to use any word, or sign for that matter, if we don't know the meaning behind it.

Mikey: Ditto! This is an opportunity to present our views and be diplomatic when disagreeing with b/vloggers without attacking. Also it is important to use primary sources to back our factual opinions. I am not perfect as I've always learn something new everyday and my way of thinking changes for the better.

Toby: Nah, it doesn't bother me when EAR-CLOSE is used by deafies either. Nevertheless, I think we deserve to know why that sign was created.

Anonymous #1: Yes, Veditz fingerspelled deaf mute first then used the sign EAR-MOUTH to identify them. How about that hmm!

Deaf Pundit: You are right! I've heard about that too! However according to the Structure of ASL book, it still labels which signs are formal and which are not.

Anonymous #2: God bless America! We are fortunate to have more freedom so we should appreciate what we have.

Anonymous #3: Thanks for providing the link :-)

Jay: That's so true how we sign EAR-close-to-MOUTH rather than EAR-MOUTH and how the orientation of index finger has changed. Fascinating, heh! That's why I always enjoy teaching history including Deaf Hertiage and Structure of ASL courses to HS students for more than a decade.

Anonymous #4:

Carl has his own style of presenting information but I do respect his work. He does have a wealth of knowledge and have a lot to contribute. No one is perfect including myself. I wish not to be compared to anyone but thank you for your comments on how I provided the resources.

White Ghost: Now we realize the value of the EAR-MOUTH sign and be more proud of it. I do hope that the center will be dedicated to George Veditz, too! I agree with you that ear-close should not be considered a formal sign as opposed to what the Structure of ASL book said. Looks like the ASL linguistics need to revisit this sign!

Hey I was a class of '88 at Gallaudet too but transferred to RIT after spending a few years at Gally.

Amy: Thanks! As a social studies/deaf studies teacher, I've always like to provide primary sources where we can step in a role as "historicans" to interpret these documents. Guess this habit is a good one although the task can be daunting! But patience is a virtue.

Aidan Mack said...

WOW! I am so impressed. I never knew it. So inspiring! Important for us to keep on researching and vlogging. I learn a great deal from doing them. Thank you for sharing your wonderful awakening presenation with us.


LaRonda said...


I'm still new to the deaf blog/vlog world, but I've been here long enough to read some of your posts and vlogs. I can see you are the kind of person who inspires others because you are willing to walk the extra mile. You take your work seriously and your reach out with ease to others. You are well received and earn respect because you give respect, regardless of any differences.

You are a role model to many out here. Feel good about that!

A warm fuzzy to you! :)

~ LaRonda

Anonymous said...

I loveeee to see videos of our deaf ancestors. My heart filled with both pride and sadness. Pride for our rich language which survived so much adversity. Sad because we all are trying to figure out how our language evolved. Its an example of how the system almost destroyed our language and culture. Again, I am so proud of all of us for having the love of our heritage by investing time to rediscovering our language on grassroot level and preserving it for our future generations. Thank you Barb and everyone else including Mike, Carl, Jay, and Aidan!! xo

Julie Rems-Smario

Judy said...


Thanks for sharing the video. I love old film. It is one of my favorite.

That has to be thier regional sign (ear-mouth) and they used it because hearing people labeled them deaf-mute then they accepted that label.

While other Deaf people from different regional used (ear-closed) as Deaf.

WE can always find Deaf elderly who are over 80 or 90 years old who could share that story with us. They could tell us which signs they used and what it means to them.

We have to remember each states have thier own regional signs.

Judy B

BEG said...

I feel that we need to know the true intention why that sign was created later on. For me, I don't think I would want to use any word, or sign for that matter, if we don't know the meaning behind it.

I understand and agree with the sentiment, but I'm not sure how much information can actually be gleaned from these films. It is certainly clear that the DEAF-MUTE sign has been in far more intensive use for a long time, but we have (I think) learned more about the DEAF-MUTE sign and not so much about the DEAF-CLOSE sign. I can think of one or two more explanations that also fit the facts as we have them so far.

I'm much more familiar with linguistic research in written/verbal languages, of course, but I would point out that there are plenty of words in these languages whose provenance remains uncertain. The problem is that the absense of a sign or word can only be interpreted generally. Was DEAF-CLOSE a rare sign because a) it was extremely old and almost immediately superseded by a quicker sign (pure speculation, but fits all known facts) b) it was created after 1930 (why so late? oralists were in full force well before then) c) it has been used in later years as the "variety" of deaf have grown (cf Davila's usage -- but contradicted by the testimony of various DOD attesting that it's been in their family for multiple generations).

Let me extend this further. Suppose we find a video clip ca. 1900-1930 in which someone uses the DEAF-CLOSE sign. OK, what would that tell us? It would tell us the sign is older (but we have clues about that from DOD families). It wouldn't tell us anything about WHY.

Let's suppose we analyse all appearances of DEAF-MUTE in these old films and find that all the people shown using it came from the same educational institution? Then perhaps that is the reason we see these signs. As you can see, there's a lot more analysis of these facts that has to proceed from here.

It's also possible that parts and pieces are true. Maybe it really WAS a very old sign, abandoned long ago, and modern day people discovering it thought it looked cool for the theater, or thought it suited them better because to them it described their experience better. Is that necessarily a product of oralism or audism or perhaps just plain old evolution?

A smoking gun would have to be something like, a memo dating back to these times from an oralist administrator specifying that students are to be forced to use EAR-CLOSED instead of DEAF-MUTE. Then we could say, well here's the oralist origin or history of this word. But we haven't found anything at all like this (yet?).

After all, 50 years ago the english word 'gay' meant happy!

BEG said...

Sorry for the multiple post. I just thought of something after hitting that send button (of course)!

Much is being said about the (attempted) destruction of ASL -- which occurred without any doubt, don't get me wrong. But DEAF-MUTE seems to me a perfect example of the failure of that effort, not its success! Let's suppose for a moment that although unproven (and possibly unprovable) EAR-CLOSED is indeed an invention and imposition by the oralists. Well, it sure was not successful, was it?? It's a rare sign! Hardly anyone uses it! We can barely find any examples of it.

If only all oralism had been so unsuccessful *grrrrr*. In fact, I could wish they had been equally "successful" with their attempts to destroy deaf education!

Eric Lawrin said...


Wonderful evidence! Bravo!

I try to create a vlog to show you a very old picture of DEAFMUTE. I hope it will be soon.

Eric Lawrin

Dave Smith said...

Alright Barb! Nice analysis. You did your homework. Now if we can just find something from the mid-century to show EAR-CLOSE being used that'd help. I believe Ted Supalla has a pretty good film collection and lives right in your own town. Ask him.
-Dave Smith

P.S. When are you going to start your Ph.D. dissertation?

Michele said...

Hi, thanks for sharing it with us, it has been a great learning experience for me and I'm sure for others as well.

I decided that I would watch some videos from Gallaudet videolibrary. You can access at you don't have an account, set up one for yourself and they will email you with an password). Anyway, I looked through Deaf History videos. I came across two videotapes that had George McClure and Adele Krug, both of them used the sign closed deaf sign. I don't know who George McClure is and if he was deaf or hearing. Adele Krug became deaf when she was a child. George McClure is seen signing in 1940's. Adele Krug was interviewed and I think it was around 1980's. Check them out and maybe you can also check out other videos to see if any other deaf people use this sign.

Kathie said...

Hi Barb,

This is a very good issue to bring up on when Geo Veditz used Deaf Mute sign(ear to mouth).

When I was about age of 12 and was told that Deaf-close signing was formal and polite. Actually, I was not quite comfortable when signing that way. I was forced to use that deaf-close for while. My preferance of signing was deaf-mouth because it was true identify. I remembered that I had four deaf aide had to use that signing deaf-close when I was in school that time, just in school. Naturally, they signed deaf-mouth that way when I saw them somewhere. I looked back, analyzing about that signing of deaf-close and came to realize that my teachers were hearing. I find it interesting to analyze this issue now and my past life, thinking about why, and what cause.

Thanks Vloggers for bringing this issue up.


Lisa said...

Wow! Very interesting...Thank you for showing us the videos. I appreciate your great effort to do the research. I joined the Deaf v/blog world a few months ago and enjoyed your v/blogs very much. I believe you are one of the nicest person on the planet. History is one of my favorite subject.
Keep up your FANTASTIC job!!
Thanks again,

Lisa Covell

mochame said...

Great video that you show us all and I did mention about free to choice the deaf sign language on my vlog. I never see that ear-close person in my deaf school since 1968 to 1984, Mostly teacher and students used that ear-mouth all time even deaf events, school homecoming, etc. By the way, Thank you for bringing up the old sign language video.

Cy said...


Again, you tackled and nailed it! There were several others questioning your claims, and countering that Veditz used ear-close, not ear-mouth. You offered further evidence with the excerpt.

Again, THANK YOU! While Carl tried to validate, you went the extra mile. Carl could learn from you! I wish I could but I don't have the resources you do! All I could offer was what I remembered from my studies during my graduate school which was almost 10 years ago. As everyone knows, memory does not constitute as a fact - it could prove faulty!

jwomick said...

OH very interesting ur vlog discuss. keep up i like ur research as u are deep research and interesting about history how cause and stuff. yes keep up with that stuff! i will love to find out how cause ear-close in sign laugange.

Joshua Womick

Ella Lentz said...

This is EXCITING!!!! I'll share what I recall growing up. After all I'm past 50. I remember vaguely seeing Deaf adults discussing those two signs EAR-MOUTH and EAR-CLOSED. If I remember correctly, they said DEAF-MOUTH was considered vulgar and that DEAF-CLOSE was more general and polite. Seeing those films (some familiar, and some new!) just confirms what I learned in depth recently...and that is Oralism was pushing down on the Deaf people of the 30's to 60's (when Davila grew up) that we had to deny our heritage and pride of "precise" signing, and submit to SIM-COM and take more "pride" in being able to speak and hear and look down on those who do not, and worse, on those who even take pride of carrying on the DEAF-CLOSE clarity.
I agree with the person who mentioned that you should go for PhD in Deaf / ASL History! Great job!

Stephen J. Hardy said...


I found Deaf-Close sign on video by Dr. Bob Sanderson of Utah. he was the former NAD President.

Jessica said...


When you find someone signing EAR CLOSE or EAR MOUTH, can you also add what year too and where? So can give us idea of when that and what kind of occasion it was used in.

Stephen, when did Dr. Sanderson use that sign?

Candace A McCullough said...


You really took your research seriously. It is inspiring to see such passion. I have enjoyed seeing how Carl's original vlog prompted such a lively discussion about signs and history. Next month Gallaudet is having its conference on Deaf History. You should go and share your research!!

Thanks for sharing your wonderful work with us.

Jessica said...

Oh yes, Candace, that is a great idea! Would the conference be available via video streaming? If not, wish it would!

Anonymous said...

Barb, you spell deaf incorrectly as what I watched your said 'D E F'

or is there something wrong with my eyes?


David said...

Hi Barb,

You did a great job for documenting and verfying information about Deaf-close/Deaf-mute signs. I am very impressed.

It appears that people use "ear-close" when they sign School for the Deaf such. In the past (in my opinion), there was no sign for the single word of Deaf. They used Deaf-Mutes (ear-lip) all the time such as Ontario School for the Deaf-Mutes (changed to Ontario School for the Deaf). During that time, many schools changed from Deaf-Mutes to Deaf that forced Deaf people or oralists or somebody to make a new sign or borrow a sign from other Deaf locals or countries. We need to look at all (different countries) sign languages to see if there is same or similar sign for the term of Deaf before we jump into the conclusion.

Keep it up!

David Kerr

Jean Boutcher said...


Thanks thanks thanks for showing the film. I was overwhelmed and excited to see Veditz and other deafies! The sign George Veditz and others used in the film is definitely in reference to deaf-silent (mute)!

Now I have a nagging question:
From what source did Lucas and Valli learn about EAR-CLOSE as a formal sign. I will not take their version to the bank until I am convianced by seeing a source
(title and author's name). I know that Lucas has made some mistakes in her books and they should be re-examined and re-written. I certainly hope that you will pose a question if you attend Deaf History at Galladuet this spring
and come back with your new vlog spelling out a list of facts and myths. It would be like seeing the light under the tunnel once we know all facts!

Joey said...


Now, I hope we will be able to find out when "DEAF CLOSE" was originally started. Interesting topic!!

Anonymous said...

It was almost as if deaf sign was DEAF MUTE. I see it as two different meaning - unable to hear and incapable to speak. Back then they used "deaf-mute" or "deaf-dumb" earlier than 1800's til they realized that you can only be deaf and smart!

I noticed alot of fingerspelling. Are they all deaf actors?

Anonymous said...

This is my second comment because I watched your vlog again.

I noticed that George Veditz also signed the old signs for other countries such as Italy, England, German and France. France is the only sign we still use now, except we sign it by flipping the F with flair (more dramatic now?). We used to sign Italy with our pinky finger doing the Catholic baptism crossing on our forehead (similiar to the sign for Pepsi), England with one hand enveloping the other hand formed as fist and pulled in, and Germany by placing one hand over the other and loosely wiggle our fingers.

We have dropped our American vocabulary for Italy, England and Germany by adopting their native signs--Italy by signing the shape of the country, England with our index finger and thumb on our chin, and Germany by using our pointer finger on top the forehead as a symbol of German solidiers helmet during WWI

Fascinating how our signs have evolved...

Julie Rems-Smario

BEG said...

Julie -- interesting, because the "old" sign for English is used quite commonly here (southern California) -- everyone understands me when I use it, and I've seen others use it (though I would have missed the sign you describe for English, not knowing what it means, I'll keep an eye out for it now). I've also come across the I-cross for Italians, so all this seems to be in transition. (I've also found at least two signs for China - a "7" on the chest, and a handshape [nondominant hand makes Q letter, overlay that with index finger of dominant hand] that didn't come with an explanation, but to me looks like the Chinese ideogram for "red dragon" which is of course the symbol of old China (before the communists)...).

But I digress. I originally commented on three scenarios I could see fitting the available facts, and now I see there's an option d) which is that the ear-cheek sign is DEAF-SILENT, not DEAF-MUTE, and therefore actually meaning much the same as DEAF-CLOSE.

I find this all extremely fascinating..