Interviews with Patty Duke
& William Schallert
Common Questions About Deafness,
Sign Language & SignWriting
1985: On the set of the video"Learn
Signing With SignWriting".
Left,William Schallert, center Valerie Sutton,
right Patty Duke.
Introduction: In 1985, actors Patty
Duke & William (Bill) Schallert contributed
their time by making a video in support of SignWriting.
Patty Duke, who is well-known for her Broadway
role as Helen Keller in the play, The Miracle
Worker, and who has been a supporter of
Deaf education ever since, generously opened
her home to the camera and crew so that portions
of the video could be filmed in her living room!
Patty Duke and William Schallert acted together
in the Patty Duke Show, which aired on American
television for years. Bill was Patty's father
on the show. Bill became a Board Member of the
nonprofit organization that sponsors SignWriting,
For Sutton Movement Writing, in 1982.
Patty Duke & Valerie
Video Interview, 1985
Now Valerie...Sign Language is so
expressive. It uses body movement. Now...as
I understand it...your invention writes body
Yes. That's right. It provides a
"movement alphabet". SignWriting can
write any signed language in the world.
There is more than one Sign Language?
Yes. Lots of people don't realize
that, but actually each country has its own
signed language, in fact some countries have
more than one. Each signed language developed
naturally, just like spoken languages did.
1985: At a fund raising
event in Los Angeles.
Left, Patty Duke, center Valerie Sutton, right
Patty's son Sean.
In the back, left John Astin and right, William
Well...a lot of us were under the
impression that there is only one Sign Language
and that it is international!
A lot of people think that, but actually
each Sign Language is unique with its own grammar,
its own vocabulary, and its own folklore. Let
me give you an example...The sign for "interpret"
in Denmark, means to "cook"
in the United States. So you can see that the
same movements can have entirely different meanings
in different countries.
So...if Sign Language isn't international,
then what is?
Well...some alphabets are international.
The same abc's that we use to write English
are also used to write Danish. And the same
SignWriting symbols we use to write signs in
the United States are also used to write signs
So...Sign Languages are not international,
but the SignWriting symbols are.
Do people ever ask you "Why
Sign Language?" "Why not just use
Yes. Hearing people do ask that question,
but that's because they don't realize that some
Deaf people are born into Deaf families and
those Deaf families use Sign Language as their
first native language. English is a second language
for them, and imagine trying to learn your second
language and you can't even hear it!
So lip reading is probably not all
that effective for everyone?
No. Not for everybody. Some researchers
say that lip reading only gives about 30% understanding.
That would mean around 70% of the words are
guessed at. Now, for hearing people who become
deaf later in their lives, they of course, tend
to learn to lip read, mainly because they already
know English and they never had another language
before they became deaf...and they don't know
Sign Language. But for Deaf children, there
are different trends in education. One of those
trends is called Total Communication, which
uses every tool and technique to help Deaf children
learn to communicate.
Back row left, actor John
Astin, from the Adams Family TV Show.
Back row right, William Schallert.
Front row left, Patty Duke and right, Valerie
William Schallert &
Video Interview, 1985
Valerie...the question is often asked..."If
people can see, why can't they read?"
Just because you can see, doesn't
mean you can automatically read a language.
For example, just because you can see Russian
or Japanese, doesn't mean you know how to read
I can see Arabic but I don't know
how to read Arabic!
Sure. And neither do I. So in other
words, you have to know a language in order
to read it.
That's right. And it helps to be
able to hear a spoken language to be able to
speak it. For example, hearing babies come home
from the hospital and their hearing parents
speak to them in the crib. And those hearing
parents help that child learn how to speak,
so by the time the child is 6 years old and
goes to school, the child can speak English,
and then simply learns how to sound out words
like "c o m e" and "b o y",
so they can then read a language they already
know how to speak.
So the child has heard the language
and learned it that way, but a Deaf child doesn't
have that opportunity.
That's right. It is a little like
being born into a glass cage, if you are born
deaf. There you are, in your glass cage, with
people "mouthing" at you outside,
and you can't hear what they are saying and
you don't necessarily know English.
No. So how does a deaf child learn
Well, of course circumstances are
different within every family. But in the case
of a Deaf child born into a Deaf family, the
child is brought home from the hospital, and
the child is "signed to" instead of
"spoken to", as in the hearng family.
That happens when Deaf children are born into
native signing families - those are Deaf families
that use Sign Language. And they have normal
language development because they learn signs
at the same rate, or even faster than a hearing
child would learn words. They claim there are
about 2 million American people who use Sign
Language on a daily basis.
Is there more than one kind of Sign
Language in America?
Yes. There are several kinds. There
is American Sign Language, or ASL, that has
a separate grammar and structure from English.
And then some people sign in English word order.
Signed English is one of those systems.
And that is in a different order
than in ASL. Is there anything else?
Yes. There is also PSE, which stands
for Pidgen Sign English. It is a Pidgen, where
the grammars of ASL and English are blended.
...and the video continues...
Bill and Patty wave goodbye at the end of the
For more information, write to:
Help the SignWriting Literacy Project
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Nine schools for the deaf are waiting in line
to join, but we do not have the funds to include
them. Just a small amount can benefit deaf children
for one semester. They will receive donated
books, videos and software for the classroom,
and the teachers are provided with free technical
Complete documentation and grant proposals can
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