from artificial code to organic language

There are some wonderful layers of meaning conveyed by Rosa Lee in this music video, which is performed bilingually, in spoken English and American Sign Language.

“All I Want” opens with a literal translation of the English lyrics into a manual code that is not ASL. There is a transition – see if you can spot it – when Rosa Lee switches from the artificially-constructed signed code for spoken English into the fluid, natural rhythms of American Sign Language.
Then, the burden is placed on the English words to accommodate the rich, beautiful meanings she produces with ASL. The reversal is sweet. Can you perceive the difference? Now, imagine that you grow up with a code. There are rules and structures and boundaries, some of which make some kind of sense (or you create some meaning so that they do ‘make sense’), some of which appear isolated, with no obvious relationship to anything else. One can spend a lifetime bouncing off the elements of such codes. Perhaps the bouncing is motivated: a seeking for coherence, a search for niches where meanings are more transparent, a compulsion to re-discover relationships that passed one by in the slew of stimulus.
Life happens. Some people adapt to the code, either following its logic (or the logic they assign to it) or learning how to use the code to their own advantage. They play the game. Some play well, others not so well, but at least they feel they are in it, a part of society, a member of humanity.
Living happens. Many people are fortunate to grow up within a language that is whole, or have the organic neurochemistry to pick one up later in life. This does not mean their family is necessarily happy, or that society doesn’t have problems, or that culture solves everything. To live is to grow: bigger, smarter, faster, more lean, more mean – more kind, more generous; or less selfish, less demanding, less stubborn; more fluid. Individuals grow, but language is the medium for shared growth. Through language we learn together, teach each other, test ideas, discover errors. Language lets us breath inspiration into the world, infusing community, bridging differences, building commonality.
Thanks, Rosa Lee, for showcasing language’s glory.

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