11-13 - Deaf School

Today, we get up a little early and, after another excellent Honorine
breakfast, march for about thirty minutes, through Ho Chi Min square
and on over to the school for the deaf.  I have a microphone in hand
and a flash disk with two pieces of software on it: a general waveform
editing program and another program specifically designed to allow an
instructor to record a word or phrase, so that a student can imitate

Both show spectrograms of the recordings.  Spectrograms can be very
helpful in figuring out what you're doing wrong when you're trying to
sound like someone else -- they move the acoustic signal into the
visual realm.

The speech instructor here is also named Rivo, though he should not be
confused with SALFA's excellent computer tech of the same name.  He's
also the organist and the most skilled translator, here.  Rivo speaks
into the microphone and his vocalizations appear in the top window of
the program in spectrogram form.  He says "Salama toupako."  That
sounds to my American ears like [Sa-lam-a Toop-koo] but it's not.  In
Malagasy, word final vowels are reduced.  A reduce vowel is one which
almost isn't there -- note "almost".  On the spectrogram in the bottom
window, which represents my voice, I can see a glaring piece missing
from my recording -- the reduced vowel.  It is clearly there in his.
In a minute, my "salama toupako" sounds much better.  "Salama
toupako", by the way, means "hello person of high station."  You can
say just "salama", but "salama toupako" is much nicer.

The question is, will this help his students?  Time will tell.

The microphone is one I brought with me to Madagascar.  I can buy
another.  The software I tried to license out of pocket, but the awful
Internet connection here makes that hard.  I'll do it as soon as I get
home and then I'll email them the key.  Until then, it's a ten-day
free trial.

Total: $95 -- I hope it's helpful.  If so, it's money extremely well

We attended the service at the school, which was very interesting.  It
was long, but the linguist in me loved it.  You see, they speak
Malagasy slowly in the service, and they sign.

ASL and MSL are different.  Some signs are common to the two
languages, some are not.  Thank you, for instance, is actually signed
with two signs, the pronoun you, and "toupa," the same word as in
"salama toupako."  So the sign seems to be literally, [YOU]
[HIGH-PERSON].  I know I'm missing something about the [YOU] sign,
because it's a flat hand pointing, not a finger.  There's some content
there I don't get, and won't get the chance to investigate (Drat!).

But that phrase made me worry, and then the readings and songs
redoubled my worry.  Is MSL a sign language, or an almost word for
word translation of Malagasy?  That's what is done in Signed English
in the States and it's a useless, painful bastard of a language, meant
to teach the deaf to speak, not to provide them with a real language
for communication.  ASL is the counter-example.  It's a real language,
and it's not English.

But my worry disappeared as soon as someone "spoke" who was not
reading or singing from a text.  MSL is for real.  It uses space,
expression, etc. and is not wedded to vocal Malagasy syntax.

At the end I was asked to come up and say a few words.  I spoke in
English, and signed what I was saying in ASL.  Rivo translated into
both Malagasy and MSL.  Some signs were in common, some were not.
Some were iconic and obvious, and some were not.  "College," for
instance, is a modification of "truth," and I gleefully miss-used it
for "University."

"Hello.  Your signs and my signs are different.  I studied sign
language at the University of Chicago long ago.  I watch you and I
study your signs.  I flew here a while ago from the USA, and I will
fly back there very soon.  I like it here.  Thank you.  Thank you

I know it's baby talk.  I know so few signs.  All the signs I picked
up during the service were religious -- "Amen", "Heaven", "Jesus",
"Sin", "Lord" ("Lord", by the way, is [HIGH-PERSON] as in "Thank you")
-- and I didn't want to talk about that subject matter.  I could have
used the very few signs I'd learned in MSL before the service, like
"Foreigner" and "Thank you", but I wanted them to see that a foreigner
signed a lot like them; That they could learn another language in
another country, and that it wasn't hard to understand; that people in
other countries did use sign and that they could someday talk with
them; so I kept it all ASL, pure.

The reverend said some nice things about me, and I signed thank you,
both in MSL and ASL, and Pat, who was quietly translating, laughed and
said "someone behind us just said 'He's signing in English!'"

It interesting how the deaf community's language gets so bound to the
surrounding language.  ASL speakers would say, for both reasonable and
political reasons, that words like the old term for Korea, which used
a "K" in the sign, were essentially borrowings from English, whereas
these MSL speakers might more straightforwardly say "MSL is Malagasy.
Only different."

Neither is completely true.

Lanto came by around noon with his family, and I treated them all to
lunch at a Chinese restaurant near the American embassy.  It was a
pricey place, but lunch for seven was still only $18.

Very good food.  Not enough of it.  Long wait for both the food and
the dessert.

Everyone but me ordered the Ice Cream Pinocchio.  I realized why when
it came.  A cone for a hat, two raisins for eyes, ice cream head and a
tube cookie for a nose.  It's hilarious.

I had banana flambe in caramel sauce.  Not bad either.

Exhausted, I continued on to my three o'clock.  Cooking with Honorine.
She showed me how to make a traditional Malagasy dish (see recipe
elsewhere).  We used the knife she has been using since she was six
years old.  She's been cooking with it for forty five years.  It's
small, the handle is broken, the blade is strange distorted shape from
perhaps tens of thousands of passes over a whetstone, and it's sharp
as a razor.

After we cooked it, she actually sat down and ate with me!  Yes!

And it was very good.

The recipe is easy and includes pictures.