You've just "said" the number "eighty-nine" in American Sign Language.
Ever since learning the manual alphabet while at a Girl Scout leadership camp out as a teenager, I've wanted to know more ASL. Between gymnastics and dancing (polka, waltz, swing, modern dance, blues, tango...), I have long since realized I am a physical person, comfortable in my body. I like to move. Old people at church smile at me for swaying to the music of hymns Sunday mornings, and Dear Husband teases me that I already talk with my hands. So it has been natural for me to incorporate both blues and ASL into my liturgical dances.
|Me & my camper: "cheeeze!"
As a teen I had experience with children with special needs who communicated with signs. This came in handy two years ago, when I spent 10 days outside San Antonio, TX, at Camp CAMP, volunteering with autistic campers. Many non-verbal individuals with a variety of conditions use signs in addition to or in place of communication boards. With my M.D., I eventually want to practice development pediatrics, so it may be that my ASL skills are more useful among my patient population than my German.
As part of my Ph.D. training I have also become familiar with academic disability theory and with the closely related disability-rights movement. In the 18th and 19th centuries, hearing people often considered deaf people unintelligent and ineducable due to their "lack of language" (deaf and dumb --> dumb). Then Abbé Sicard, Jean Massieu, Thomas Gallaudet, and Laurent Clerc developed sign languages in France and the United States. Now there is a closely knit Deaf community whose continued existence is threatened by new technologies such as improved cochlear implants.
I've taken a few ASL classes here in town, and I practice with a group at my church every Sunday morning, but I finally decided to make the time for a proper beginner's class this spring. My teacher is a Deaf man with a silly sense of humor who devises games to get us to practice signs for letters, numbers, and grocery-store items. Since I already know the alphabet, numbers, and some basic signs, I have a leg (arm?) up on my classmates, but new signs can still trip me up. For instance, I was a complete mess when we played a game for signing shapes. "Fool me!" (Rap your right fist gently against your upheld left index finger.)
89. 89. 89. As I counted to myself in class last Wednesday evening, I thought about how amazing sign language is. With that simple gesture I was communicating something meaningful to someone. Maybe one day I'll be able to sign with a Deaf patient while waiting for the interpreter to come. Maybe I'll make it out to the mall on a Tuesday evening to meet local Deaf persons and to practice signing. Maybe I'll eventually be able to understand a movie in ASL (the one I saw here in town last summer was a pretty bad rendition of "Freaky Friday," complete with over-the-top gender stereotypes--maybe Deaf theater is better). At any rate, sign language class is one way for me to live outside my teaching (I hate grading!) and dissertating (it's never-ending!) for a few hours a week, while picking up a possibly useful skill for the future.