The Daily Moth 1-19-18

January 19, 2018



Arkansas Deaf Couple Loses Home in Fire, Interview with Gallaudet Professor MJ Bienvenu, Update on Deaf RIT Student Hit by Truck, Former Principal of Michigan School for the Deaf Passes Away, Federal Shutdown Looms: What Will Happen? 




Hello, today is a “Friday Special” — I’ve got some news for you. 




On Sunday in Arkansas, a Deaf couple’s home was completely destroyed by a fire. They don’t own the home, but have lived there for years and done a lot of work on it 


The Deaf couple, Darin Evans and his fiancé, Laura lost all of their possessions. They had six dogs, all safe, but three pet rabbits died inside. 


The fire started in their laundry room for some reason and the blaze leveled the home. 


I reached out to them, here are their comments. 



[Video interview with Darin and Laura in which they explain their experience. 


Darin didn’t use the dryer machine, which was in the back of the home in an uninsulated area, for three weeks because of cold weather. On Sunday night he used the dryer and as he was inside the home, he smelled something burning, but thought it was a blown fuse or something and brushed it aside. Laura went to bed. Around 10 to 15 minutes later, when Darin opened the door to the laundry room, he was overcome with black smoke and alerted Laura, who immediately got up to make sure the dogs were safe and ran down the street to get help, while still in her underwear. Darin tried to get some belongings in the home, but the power went out, so he went outside and saw black smoke rising from the home. Laura’s phone died — she asked people on the street, neighbors, to call 911. The fire department came, but the home was already fully engulfed in flames. Three pet rabbits were in the home and didn’t make it. The couple lost everything inside and are now living temporarily at a residence owned by the fire chief, but for only four months, as the residence will be razed down. The couple does not want to live in apartment because they have four pit bulls and want to live in the same area, and hope to raise money to buy a motor home or to build a simple structure so they can live in the same area. The landlord has shown support for this idea.] 



Thank you for sharing, Darin and Laura, sorry to see you lose your home and pet rabbits. 


If you want to help them, you can do so by donating at the GoFundMe link in the description or transcript. 


They hope to be able to use the money to get a motor home or a simple structure to be built on the same land. 






On Wednesday night, a well-known Gallaudet professor MJ Bienvenu posted a vlog on Facebook about her thoughts on “newly created” ASL signs that removed initializations, such as the signs for “culture” or “restaurant.” 


[Video clips of MJ’s Facebook video] 


The video went viral. I reached out to her for an interview to follow up on some of her points. 


— [Begin Interview] 


Alex: Hello MJ!


MJ: Hello, too! 


Alex: Can you introduce yourself, your position, how long you have been working, and you’re going to retire soon? 


MJ: I’m MJ Bienvenu. I work at Gallaudet University as a professor for ASL and Deaf Studies. I also teach a graduate program called Masters in Sign Language Education (MASLED). I’ve been working here for a long time and my retirement plan is in the works. 


Alex: You posted a vlog on Wednesday night. It reached over 130,000 views and was shared over 3,000 times. Many comments praised your video and thoughts. Did you expect this kind of reaction? 


MJ: I was completely surprised. I’ve never made a vlog before except for small, personal ones, but thought I should do something about this topic and when I posted it, I got some messages from friends, but after I woke up the next morning, I was shocked to see that it went up to 28,000 views. I thought it was 2,800 at first. It’s completely unexpected, surreal — I am honored and humbled. 


Alex: You mentioned that you had started seeing this and discussed this among your colleagues, with confusion. What was the “breaking point” for you to make the video, why now? 


MJ: My friends asked me the same question. I’ve been seeing instances of the “new signs” for years now. I thought it might be a fad, some kind of trend, but I’ve seen it used more and more, including by my students and graduate students. I had discussions with them and also with my colleagues and my department. I teach linguistics myself and when I analyze the new signs, in the back of my mind, I see that they don’t fit within ASL rules. In the last few months, I’ve seen it get worse, with people onstage using the signs. During Christmas, I visited Austin, went to a workshop and continued with those discussions. So I did some “practice” with what I would present in the vlog, and it made sense. Then it was just time to release it, and oh… 


Alex: In your video, you made references to your upbringing and knowledge of what ASL was like all along, so you can easily tell the difference between the “new signs” and the old signs. For those who are younger or without the same access, how can we “tell” the difference between invented signs and “real” ASL? 


MJ: That question is a good question and a hard one, too. I think many of those who learned ASL late, was mainstreamed, or went to a Deaf school, or their family is hearing — whatever their upbringing is — they will develop an instinct of langauge when they absorb it. They might not see the older signs, but they will see older people’s signs and those signs are passed along. How the brain works with langauge is amazing, really. The brain knows how to pick up words. As the langauge goes through time and processes, there might be some confusion on signs due to mainstream programs or unqualified interpreters — but once one sees something right, they will pick up on it. I’ve seen some Deaf people who signed very fluently even if they grew up mainstream or had parents who didn’t sign. So I think we can continue to do this, young people will pick up on the “right” signs if we provide the right examples. If we force it, that’s where it can be ruined. In the natural process of language moving through the people, there might be some signs that seem strange, or seems like SEE, or as if it is from “hearing oppression” — but we don’t know if it’s actually SEE or not. For example, the sign for water, with the W — this has been used for many years, but some want to change it to this sign, but it’s incorrect. So I think young people will pick up on the language just fine regardless of their background. I think it is natural and healthy for the langauge itself to go through the process. And I have to admit it myself, sometimes I struggle with signing two different ways for “language” with initialized or uninitialized signs. So I do switch between the two depending on what I feel is natural and right. So I’m always pondering this myself. 


Alex: So you are saying we know the signs are “right” by looking at how people use it and pass it along, people do have that natural instinct — what would you call this instinct? 


Alex: The fact that there were so many views, shares, and comments agreeing with you shows that people already have that “natural” instinct to recognize this. What would you call this “natural instinct?” 


MJ: If you acquire langauge, it will build itself within you. Biologically speaking, language goes into your brain, yes, but if you get it right, it’ll naturally become your langauge instinct. So you have it. It’ll develop by itself — the brain works in interesting ways, really. We have a lab here where we study the brain and how it receives languages — it recognizes patterns. From the patterns, the brain will “know” the langauge, regardless if it is seen or heard, as long as it is discovered. As your brain works, it will pick up on words and “know” from patterns form a langauge. See now I’m using both signs for “langauge.” The point is that the brain will learn by itself from seeing variations. 


Alex: You mentioned a danger of a language dying — from langauge purification. Can you tell us how this could actually happen, and how we can be sure that ASL will continue to be a “living” langauge?

MJ: That’s a big question and I’ll try to put it in a nutshell. Langauge itself will always evolve throughout time, linguists say this must happen with languages. Languages also borrow from other languages. Yes, the Deaf experience is affected from SEE, from oralism, cued speech — no question — our education system is not wonderful, this is the truth. At the same time, ASL has a way, the brain can see from patterns, it can accept signs and reject the ones that don’t fit. So if you reject certain signs or say there can be no “borrowing,” then what will the langauge grow on? It’s like you’re putting it on an island. If you “purify’ ASL, the rules will be short-circuited and the brain can’t find a pattern — where can I change, where can I find it, where can I grow? I think if you allow words and signs to be added, the brain will either accept or reject them. That’s how ASL works, and the same goes for any other language — be it ASL, French, LSQ, LSF… We borrow a lot from LSF and from other countries. Now for English — just because our experience with English is often negative, it doesn’t mean we have to reject English 100%. It’s not pretty, but if I had a choice between mouthing it (oral method), fingerspelling it, or using the first letter — I would pick fingerspelling, but the third option (using the first letter) works, as long as the sign fits ASL rules. So it’s either fingerspelling or using initialized signs. If you reject those signs, it means the langauge can’t grow and evolve. Language must remain alive. 


Alex: So langauge is like a “moving entity” — some signs will attach on it, some will be rejected, there might be English influences… It’s okay, as long as it moves forward… That’s your perception? 


MJ: Our ASL has some variations of signs, such as the sign for “tire,” according to regions. It might seem strange, but we accept it because it is people’s upbringing. We don’t tell them that it is wrong. This is an example of how it works. 


Alex: I think the fact that your video went viral, and it was not even posted on Moth or some big social media site — it was your personal wall, yet it went viral with many people agreeing with you and saying you validated their feelings. Many of them didn’t study ASL, but agreed — so that by itself says a lot. 


MJ: From the responses, I see that it is better for Deaf people to support each other. Our history shows that those who try to change our langauge is done by hearing people. Now there are people from the inside that want to change it — which causes confusion on if it is right or wrong. We can change language, but it must be natural. I see now that people are starving for discussions and analysis about ASL. It hit me hard and made me ponder if I should make more vlogs because I’ve studied ASL for many years. Many people agreed with the vlog, which shows many people have the same feelings and instincts, and it was like a release — like a pressure cooker being released. I also think — I don’t want our community to be divided. We shouldn’t criticize each other, we shouldn’t do this, as long as the signs fit within rules. Let’s strive for a healthy, unified community, regardless if you have a Deaf or oral background. 


Alex: Do you want to add anything?

MJ: This was a wake-up call for me. I had discussed this topic among my friends and colleagues, but didn’t realize it was a big issue, that there were many who had thoughts and feelings about this. Clearly Deaf people really treasure ASL, and that makes me overjoyed. We want to protect ASL, and that is really important to me. There might be some disagreements, but the important thing is that we, the Deaf community, cares about ASL. 


Alex: Thank you for your time, MJ.


MJ: Thank you for the honor of asking for an interview. 


— [End Interview] 


Alex: Thank you for your time, MJ. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hopes she will continue to make those kinds of videos to discuss ASL. 


Watch MJ’s Facebook Video:




Here’s an update on the Deaf RIT student who was hit by a truck, Steven Carranco. 


Her sister Mireya said he is improving in the hospital and getting better, is very strong. 


The family has set up a fundraising site to support his recovery process. The link is in the description/transcript. 


The site has updates there — it says Steven is able to recognize family and reply to questions on where the pain is. 


Now there is action to make changes on the road.


The NTID Student Congress Vice President posted a video saying they are working with the city of Henrietta (this where the accident happened, next to Rochester) to push for sidewalks on the road and better lighting. 


There is also a petition by the RIT/NTID community with the same goal. 




NTID Student Congress:






The former principal of the Michigan School for the Deaf, Cecelia ‘CeCe’ Winkler (who is hearing), has passed away on Wednesday night from cancer. She was 63. 


She is featured in local Michigan news and several Deaf people have paid tributes to her on social media, saying she was a wonderful teacher and principal with her patience and humor. 


On the Michigan School for the Deaf website, there is a summary of her career. It said she graduated from the Michigan State University in 1976, worked as a sub teacher at MSD, and then became a full-time teacher, later becoming principal in 2001 until her retirement in 2016. 


Her funeral will be next Tuesday. Rest in peace, Cecelia.





The federal government could shut down — the deadline for Congress to pass a spending bill is tonight, but there are deep disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.


The House passed a short-term bill, but it seems to be unable to get past the Senate, where 60 votes are required. 


The main issue seems to be immigration — Democrats want protections for DACA Dreamers, while Republicans and President Trump wants funding for the border wall. 


Both sides are blaming each other for not making a deal. 


If a shutdown occurs, here is what will happen: 


— Most federal agencies and government offices will be closed with most employees “staying home” and being unpaid. 


— The Postal Service will still operate, because they get funding from their own sales. 


— The TSA would still continue. 


— Social Security and Medicare and food stamps will still be issued, but VA, unemployment, and tax refunds might be delayed. 


— Troops in the military will continue to work, but be affected with the loss of civilian staff who support them. 


— National parks and monuments will be open, but areas that require park staff to operate the park will be closed


If a budget deal is passed, it is possible federal and government workers will get paid for the time they missed — this was the case for previous shutdowns. If there is a deal over the weekend, then it’ll be as if the government didn’t shut down. 


Trump planned to fly to Florida and have a fancy gala tomorrow night to celebrate his one-year presidency, but he’s holding off on the trip and staying in the White House for now.




That’s all for today. Have a wonderful weekend and stay with the light! 



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