Sunday, September 26, 2010

Languages: silent and spoken

In New York this week, the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs organized and hosted a conference on the rights of people with disabilities. One event was a concert by the Finnish rap star, Signmark.

Signmark was born deaf and is the first deaf recording artist to sign with a major music label. His concerts are bilingual--American Sign Language and English.

He also raps in Finnish Sign Language. You can watch a Finnish music video here:

The fact that Signmark rapped in New York in English spoken lyrics and American sign language made me realize that sign language differs between countries. I hadn't thought about diversity of sign language around the world. It is easy to hear the differences in spoken language, but different sign languages can go unrecognized--at least by me.

I am reading a fascinating book that Chris' mother, Marilyn, recommended: In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent. Okrent sheds light on the natural development of language as she explains the many failed attempts to invent a perfect language. Just as I listen to Selkouutiset (clear Finnish news) on, efforts have been made to invent a "Basic English".

Okrent writes that Churchill was a proponent of Basic English and urged Roosevelt to take up the Basic English banner. Roosevelt teased Churchill that his speech exhorting, "blood, toil, tears, and sweat", would have been much less inspiring in Basic English: blood, work, eye water and face water".

As Okrent writes about the limited success of Esperanto and the many shortcomings of other "man made" languages, she explains that sign languages are not "a sort of universal pantomime". Sign languages differ from country to country because they evolve naturally--like spoken language.

What a linguistic wonder Signmark must be. He rhymes in Finnish and English, sign and spoken language, all without hearing his own voice.


  1. This was so interesting, as are all your blogs. I am fascinated by Signmark and can't wait to share this.

  2. Thank you for reading my blog.