Signing Exact English:
April 17, 2008
Signed Exact English
Manually coded English (MCE) is the term for systems such as
Signed Exact English (SEE) which are used to communicate English
non-verbally. All forms of MCE are attempts to exactly represent
the grammar and vocabulary of the English language by placing
signs in English order and including suffixes and prefixes many
of which are not provided in ASL. Examples of MCEs are Signed
Exact English (SEE), Manual English, Signed English, LOVE and
Signed Exact English (SEE) was developed in 1972 by Gerilee
Gustason. SEE uses American Sign Language signs and additional
items including pronouns, plurals, possession, and the verb "to
be". The thinking behind creating SEE is that a manual language
that is based on English would make it easier for a deaf person
to learn how to speak English. SEE was designed to be used in an
educational setting, where the focus is on English as a first
language. “It is more likely to be used by people who cannot
hear than by members of the Deaf community” (Gustason&Zawolkow,
“There are huge difference between American Sign Language and
Signing Exact English. American Sign Language is a language in
which people communicate visually” (Deister, 2008). American
Sign Language is a language with its own grammar including
gestures and facial expressions. SEE is not a language; it is a
way to sign the English language. This fundamental difference is
a source of controversy.
One controversy concerning SEE and ASL is whether someone who
needs a manual language would be better off with SEE or with
ASL. This controversy exists despite the encouragement of the
authors of SEE to not consider SEE as a single solution. They
write, “Signing Exact English, (SEE 2), is NOT a replacement for
ASL and is meant for use by parents and teachers of English
(Gustason&Zawolkow, 2006). Proponents of ASL point to the fact
that it's possible to become skilled in both English and ASL,
without signing in SEE.
different types of manually coded English have caused people to
question which sign language is best to use when teaching Deaf
students. Many English teachers consider sign languages that
exactly represent the English language, like Signing Exact
English (SEE), to be the best languages to teach Deaf students.
But not all agree with this position. “Many liberal educators of
the Deaf, however, believe and know that American Sign Language
(ASL) is the best visual language to teach Deaf students” (Deister,
There is also a controversy about using ASL, SEE, or no manual
communication. One opinion is that if a deaf child has hearing
parents and uses ASL, then the parents need to learn another
language. If a parent uses SEE with their deaf child then all
they have to do is learn signs and keep the same English order.
The third option that some hearing parents pick is oral
communication. I believe that this debate should not be focused
on the parents but on what is best for the child and the child’s
self-esteem. Children need to feel acceptance. Hearing parents
will often confuse acceptance with speaking English even if that
places their child in between two groups (hearing and the deaf).
Not using ASL means difficulty for the child in being accepted
by the Deaf community since the child doesn’t know their
language. Not speaking English on the same level as their piers
means difficulty in being accepted by the hearing community.
Using SEE as a device to lean English doesn’t help the child to
be accepted in either community. “In order to be accepted into
the Deaf community, you should beusing ASL and not Signed Exact
English (SEE)” (Deister, 2008).
Many believe that Signing Exact English is an attempt to “help”
the deaf community by eliminating their language and replacing
it with “proper” English thereby bringing them closer to
conformance with the non-deaf community. Person to person
communications should be designed to convey a message in the
most efficient manner possible between the people involved. It
needs to be efficient in order to make the best use of
everyone’s time and attention. SEE takes the direct
communications method of ASL and fills it with prepositions and
articles that slows down communications and makes it more
difficult to follow a conversation. SEE might be good tool for
teaching English and if it is SEE should be limited to classroom
environments. The authors of the SEE agree with this. They
write, “The stress on the importance of exposing the child to
English if we wish him or her to acquire the language easily
must not be interpreted as a rejection of American Sign
Language” (Gustason&Zawolkow, 2006). The authors do not advocate
the use of SEE to the exclusion of ASL. Instead, they stress the
study and use of both, “We encourage a study of and acceptance
of both ASL and manual English” (Gustason&Zawolkow, 2006). Maybe
there is room for both SEE and ASL as long as it is understood
that ASL remains the primary language of the Deaf community.
Andrew, J. F., DeVille, G., & Winograd, P. (1993). Deaf children
reading fables: Using ASL summaries to improve reading
comprehension. American Annals of the Deaf, 139 (3), 378-385.
Deister, Kelli. ((2008). Differences between ASL and SEE.
Deafness Site. BellaOnline. Retrieved 18, Mar. 2008: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art43519.asp.
Gustason, G. & Zawolkow, Er. (2006). Signing Exact English. Los
Alamitos: Modern Signs Press, ix-xii.
Schlesinger, L. M. (1994). Hearing parents can influence deaf
children’s self-esteem. American Annals of the Deaf, 140 (4),
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