Why I Sign

Author: Kurt Kuzminski

Why do I sign? Because it’s beautiful. Because it translates movement into poetry, connecting concepts to ideas, and people to people. It tells us stories in a vivid, visual medium that is intuitively enchanting, and — simultaneously — as accessible to the novice as it is nuanced to the master. So yes, for me, it’s all about connecting people through the poetry of motion.

Confession: I’m already a science nerd, so learning basic atomic theory in American Sign Language (ASL) blew my mind. Imagine your hand falling through space to <smack!> crash into your palm, fingers snapping into a fist at the last second. A confluence of force and attraction. Gravity. An aura of dancing fingers circling a closed fist? Atom. Think about it — if your fist is the nucleus, then I can’t help but imagine each fingertip as its own electron, spritely chasing its own orbit. Put them together, and <wham!> you have the sign for an atom. Now slip a lone finger out of the cloud and send it whipping about on its own trajectory. Electron. Isn’t it fascinating how intuitive that is? Need to see it? Head to www.ASLClear.org and get ready for some fantastic ASL (be sure to click on the “English” button on the top right to make it easier to navigate). So that’s one part, the visual poetry of the language. The other half is, of course, the people those hands are attached to.

I am lucky, thankful, and grateful to have met such people. Generous, inspiring, and welcoming people who patiently taught me ASL, even though I must have been, and probably still am, a babbling and hilariously-accented foreigner. To everyone I’ve met, thank you for creating a safe space and encouraging my thick-fingered fumblings. I’ll always be grateful for those generous mentors who opened their homes to us and shared the complexity and nuance of sign, and their contagious passion for it.

Carrying that passion with me, I feel compelled to share. The audience of my thick-fingered fumblings? My kids. My daughter is Deaf, and she loves experiencing new signs, especially when they describe science. When I share new signs with her, her eyes brim with delight. Flailing fingers smack into palm. Gravity. And that impact kindles something in her, that innate curiosity to explore the world through science.  She in turn, snapping fingers into fist, passes that curiosity to her little sister. And now, I’m treated to the fruits of my fumblings. Tiny fists snapping into tiny palms. Tiny fingers snapping “No,” or stretching out to say, “I Love You!”

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