Nancy Frishberg, Ph.D.

MSB Associates

Position statement for the CHI 2010 workshop

Past work

All my academic degrees are in linguistics, and all my academic training was within the post-Chomskian era, where language and speech are distinguished from each other. My language of specialty is American Sign Language, the native language of Deaf people in the US (and English speaking parts of Canada), a language which has no well-accepted conventions for writing or literacy. There are, however, traditions of storytelling, narrative structures, and other quasi-literary forms (e.g., oratory), including some of the earliest films made in the US by non-professionals.

I have been interested in literacy for many years.  When I was still an academic I taught a course for undergraduates (presumably some of whom were headed for teacher training programs), called “Grammar School” on the acquisition of language and literacy.

I wrote an article “Signer of Tales” for Sherman Wilcox’s book Academic Acceptance of ASL (1992, Linstok Press) about the use of video and film sources in teaching and evaluating students comprehension of ASL.  (The title is a play on the Albert Lord book "The Singer of Tales", with attention to its themes).  I continue to offer workshops from time to time for sign language interpreters which use silent or wordless films as source materials to improve voice interpreting skills, in order to get away from the idea that some lack of competence in ASL is what prevents accomplishment in providing adequate voice interpretation for deaf signers.

Many Deaf signers have difficulty in accessing written language, as I explain in my position paper Deaf signers and literacy (.pdf, 46 Kb)

Why Now

I was not able to join a previous workshop on this topic, so I'd like to join in the discussion now.

Critical Issues

We have a chance to do something meaningful near-term (such as has been suggested, writing guidelines that are general enough to cover all the various populations we’ve been talking about who don’t read easily).  
We also have a challenge to define how we’d like digital technology, including the web, various hardware devices and other mechanisms to work, so that they can accommodate human interaction without being so heavily dependent on text and keyboards.  The promise of the DataGlove (or similar devices) has certainly not been achieved.   Early experiments about voice and gesture as interaction techniques at MIT (Put That There) have not been addressed widely or made more generally available.  I’d like to do some divergent thinking with others who care about literacy and alternative ways of getting at our linguistics and cognitive abilities, that would acknowledge other forms of complex representation than what we’ve been calling literacy.