(Note: A signed version of this abstract is available on http://aslcore.org. The English version below should be treated as an explanation designed for a non-signing audience; although this paper has been written in English, the primary working language of this project is American Sign Language.)
Engineering is a social activity where practitioners constantly use language in order to communicate. While not completely deterministic, the nature of the language we use influences how we think, communicate, and collaborate . This paper draws from work on the engineering branch of ASLCore, a language creation project focused on developing vocabulary in American Sign Language (ASL) at the college level and above.
Due to the American education system’s historic marginalization of signed languages and their users, there are few conceptually accurate and linguistically appropriate signs for even basic technical concepts. The attempts of ASLCore towards rectifying that situation are instructive not only in the context of including an underrepresented group in engineering education, but in making-visible the sorts of disciplinary rethinkings such a project might contribute. In other words, this is not simply about creating more signing engineers to carry out business as usual. Rather, we believe the practices of signing engineers could change how all engineers think, communicate, and collaborate, and that the activity of deliberate ASL vocabulary creation serves as one example of how this might happen. In this paper, we position sign creation as a locus for examining the construction of engineering meaning.
This paper centers on two illustrative case studies in engineering sign development: (1) the stress-strain curve and (2) affordance theory. For each case study, we begin by describing the new sign prototype and how it fits the concept(s) it attempts to describe. We compare the new sign to previous options for signing each concept, contextualizing them as examples of the colonized/assimilated nature of Deaf Education in the United States. We then provide the backstory for the creation of our new sign prototypes, which illustrate the subjective nature of meaning-making within engineering. Finally, we examine how each new sign showcases the unique affordances a signed language provides in discussing engineering that a spoken/written language does not.
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