Introduction: In 1985, actors Patty Duke & William (Bill) Schallert contributed their time by making a video in support of SignWriting. Patty Duke, who is well-known for her Broadway role as Helen Keller in the play, The Miracle Worker, and who has been a supporter of Deaf education ever since, generously opened her home to the camera and crew so that portions of the video could be filmed in her living room!
Patty Duke and William Schallert acted together in the Patty Duke Show, which aired on American television for years. Bill was Patty's father on the show. Bill became a Board Member of the nonprofit organization that sponsors SignWriting, the Center For Sutton Movement Writing, in 1982.
Patty Duke & Valerie Sutton
Video Interview, 1985
Patty: Now Valerie...Sign Language is so expressive. It uses body movement. Now...as I understand it...your invention writes body movement?
Valerie: Yes. That's right. It provides a "movement alphabet". SignWriting can write any signed language in the world.
Patty: There is more than one Sign Language?
Valerie: Yes. Lots of people don't realize that, but actually each country has its own signed language, in fact some countries have more than one. Each signed language developed naturally, just like spoken languages did.
1985: At a fund raising event in Los Angeles.
Left, Patty Duke, center Valerie Sutton, right Patty's son Sean.
In the back, left John Astin and right, William Schallert.
Patty: Well...a lot of us were under the impression that there is only one Sign Language and that it is international!
Valerie: A lot of people think that, but actually each Sign Language is unique with its own grammar, its own vocabulary, and its own folklore. Let me give you an example...The sign for "interpret" in Denmark, means to "cook" in the United States. So you can see that the same movements can have entirely different meanings in different countries.
Patty: So...if Sign Language isn't international, then what is?
Valerie: Well...some alphabets are international. The same abc's that we use to write English are also used to write Danish. And the same SignWriting symbols we use to write signs in the United States are also used to write signs in Denmark.
Patty: So...Sign Languages are not international, but the SignWriting symbols are.
Patty: Do people ever ask you "Why Sign Language?" "Why not just use English?"
Valerie: Yes. Hearing people do ask that question, but that's because they don't realize that some Deaf people are born into Deaf families and those Deaf families use Sign Language as their first native language. English is a second language for them, and imagine trying to learn your second language and you can't even hear it!
Patty: So lip reading is probably not all that effective for everyone?
Valerie: No. Not for everybody. Some researchers say that lip reading only gives about 30% understanding. That would mean around 70% of the words are guessed at. Now, for hearing people who become deaf later in their lives, they of course, tend to learn to lip read, mainly because they already know English and they never had another language before they became deaf...and they don't know Sign Language. But for Deaf children, there are different trends in education. One of those trends is called Total Communication, which uses every tool and technique to help Deaf children learn to communicate.
William Schallert & Valerie Sutton
Video Interview, 1985
Bill: Valerie...the question is often asked..."If people can see, why can't they read?"
Valerie: Just because you can see, doesn't mean you can automatically read a language. For example, just because you can see Russian or Japanese, doesn't mean you know how to read that!
Bill: I'll say!
Valerie: I can see Arabic but I don't know how to read Arabic!
Bill: Sure. And neither do I. So in other words, you have to know a language in order to read it.
Valerie: That's right. And it helps to be able to hear a spoken language to be able to speak it. For example, hearing babies come home from the hospital and their hearing parents speak to them in the crib. And those hearing parents help that child learn how to speak, so by the time the child is 6 years old and goes to school, the child can speak English, and then simply learns how to sound out words like "c o m e" and "b o y", so they can then read a language they already know how to speak.
Bill: So the child has heard the language and learned it that way, but a Deaf child doesn't have that opportunity.
Valerie: That's right. It is a little like being born into a glass cage, if you are born deaf. There you are, in your glass cage, with people "mouthing" at you outside, and you can't hear what they are saying and you don't necessarily know English.
Bill: No. So how does a deaf child learn a language?
Valerie: Well, of course circumstances are different within every family. But in the case of a Deaf child born into a Deaf family, the child is brought home from the hospital, and the child is "signed to" instead of "spoken to", as in the hearng family. That happens when Deaf children are born into native signing families - those are Deaf families that use Sign Language. And they have normal language development because they learn signs at the same rate, or even faster than a hearing child would learn words. They claim there are about 2 million American people who use Sign Language on a daily basis.
Bill: Is there more than one kind of Sign Language in America?
Valerie: Yes. There are several kinds. There is American Sign Language, or ASL, that has a separate grammar and structure from English. And then some people sign in English word order. Signed English is one of those systems.
Bill: And that is in a different order than in ASL. Is there anything else?
Valerie: Yes. There is also PSE, which stands for Pidgen Sign English. It is a Pidgen, where the grammars of ASL and English are blended.
...and the video continues...