Sunday, July 02, 2006

I am a goat

I got my sign name confirmed today. I am 'goat'. Quite apt I reckon. Beats being a troll. The third reading of the NZSL Official Language thing is up in parliament this Thursday after Question Time. It's one of those times where living over the hill and round the bend from parliament really pays off. It'll be good to see this cruise through. For those with access to fraudband, you can witness this via webcast here. I only hope Rodney and Heather change their minds and make it unanimous. Heather's speech for the second reading was unconvincing.

Nice to hear about Gerry's childhood all those years ago. Here's one which is a bit more recent. I spent a lot of time at Nana's house as a child. Nana learned to lipread as a younger woman, even though she had perfect hearing at the time. It is a skill that has proved useful and I'm glad she passed it on to me. However, at the time I was learning all sorts of interesting things like tying my shoelaces. This was just another thing to learn. Nana knew lipreading, therefore everyone knew lipreading. I listened with my eyes as well as my ears in class, just like everybody else did (I assumed). I sat near the front, not because of teacher's pet but so I could see Mrs Gledhill's lips more clearly. I'd be pulled out of class to mope off to the school speech therapy office. They told me to go and I went. I didn't mind because there was a good library there. The Lorax was my favourite. I couldn't say my "shhhh"s and "rrrrr"s like everyone else could. I spent hours spanning years there. My "shhh"s cleared up and the "rrr"s got less worse. Then I changed schools and the whole thing ended.

The first time I first remember something was seriously up was at boarding school, talking to Mum on the phone. I tried putting the phone to my left ear for a change and found Mum's voice much crisper. So this ear was better than that ear. Oh well then. I adapted. Left ear with the phone then. I developed a habit of tilting my head to the right when listening to people or walking on the right of friends or family.

I began experimenting. A few times, I set my shiny new digital watch's alarm to go off in class, in attempts to train myself to hear what others could hear. Bit by bit I worked out I was completely deaf to high frequencies, mainly through classmates' frowns and the teacher threatening to confiscate my watch. It all makes so much sense now. No wonder I did better on the right wing in team sports. I could hear the whistle, barely registering in my right ear, slightly more often with my left. It was just a shame when there was more than one game on. I'd stop play to the neighbouring games' whistle or play on after the ref has blown a breathalyser's worth in ours. I wasn't much of a team player.

As far as I knew, NZ Sign Language did not exist. All forms of signing were actively discouraged in schools until 1979. If Deaf were to communicate with Norms, they must lipread. The exclusive doctrine was Oralism uber alles, a policy dictated exclusively by the Norms. No wonder we have 51,000 lipreaders. It was the only form of communication allowed by the authorities. I put this down solely to that Bwitish stiff upper lip bullshit that dictated that colonists should not move their hands while talking. Everyone must adapt to our way because we are civilised. For evidence of this legacy, look around in a pub or cafe and you'll see what I mean. English people don't gesticulate as much as most others. Look at the Samoan or the Italian.

Deaf people signed anyway, because it was the most natural way for them to communicate. NZSL survived underground, away from teachers and other authority figures. In spite of the best efforts to eradicate it, it endured. According to the 2001 Disability survey, from which Heather quotes, 7700 adults use NZSL. There are roughly sixty translators nationwide to help them, or 1:128 odds. Not good, if you want to get out of the ghetto. Perhaps some of those 51,000 lipreaders might find greater sophistication of communication with NZSL. Judging from the hordes of Norms jumping to learn it at Vic and AUT, I'd say there's plenty of support for them out there. So funding's not a problem. We have the skills.

Nor should NZSL be classified as a non-English language group, unless you want to patronise the fuck out of those 51,000 sympathetic lipreaders, let alone the 7,700 NZSL voters. Mandarin is an official language somewhere. NZSL, at least until the GG gets her hands on it soon, isn't. Making NZSL an official language will certainly raise the profile and legitimacy of this language. One has only to witness the rennaissance of Te Reo since its official recognition in the 80s. Referring to Gestuno is like raising Esperanto as a serious alternative to Kiwi English. What's Gestuno for haka, mate? Language is localised one way or another. It evolves.

Finally, it's a matter of principle. Of all things, I had hoped that Act would vote for it on principle. Act, the party of new ideas and innovation thinks the British or Oz policy is better. Act, the liberal party supporting diversity and little battlers by denying this little thing. If you read it, all it says is that NZSL will be recognised by the courts and that "government services and information should be made accessible to the Deaf community through the use of appropriate means (including the use of NZSL)." Not a biggie. It's a bummer to say this, but it is just one more sad reason that Act deserves to be fortress Epsom.

Here's to shit-stirring autists while we're at it. We reserve the right to be slightly strange.

(Originally posted 4/4/06)