NGT stands for Nederlandse Gebarentaal–that is, Dutch Sign Language.
If you follow me on Twitter, you might’ve seen me mention that I started a Dutch Sign Language class this month. I’d always had a vague interest in sign language, but no more than most people’s, “Huh, that’d be kinda cool.”
That interest increased, however, when I started doing research for a now-shelved YA novel called Heirs, which featured a deaf protag. Since he was newly deaf with the expectation of getting a cochlear implant soon, he didn’t know any ASL or bother to learn it. However, in doing research on deafness in general, I logically ended up reading numerous articles and discussion on sign language and d/Deaf identity anyway. (This was of particular interest to me since I was developing my thoughts on disabled politics around that time, and a lot of Deaf politics mirror those of the neurodiversity movement. Anyway, I’m getting off-track.)
Later, I wrote Blink. One of the main characters is mute and communicates through sign language, although given the cultural context–this being a secondary world–it ends up being a very different kind of sign language from most. ‘Regular’ sign language used by deaf people exists in the world as well, but the kind my main character speaks is used exclusively by servants, who are required to blend into the background as much as possible. This leads to smaller, less obtrusive signs and barely any of the facial expressions and body language inherent in existing sign languages. Of course, this will also depend on context; servants will sign much more freely around other servants.
Writing a signing protagonist strengthened my interest even further and ended up enrolling in an NGT course this summer. I had my first class last week Tuesday, and my second class two days ago. It’s very interesting, for more reasons than the obvious; one of them is that I’m enjoying it so much.
I know, that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is. The last time I studied a language (or anything, to be fair; art school was more practice than study) was in high school. I had an enormous amount of subjects–nineteen, at one point, and seven of those were languages–which made it hard to really take an interest in one thing in particular. My grades suffered from this, which is frustrating when you know you’re capable of more. It all ended up with my having very negative associations with anything relating to ‘homework’ or ‘studying.’
Presently, my obligations consist of publishing-related activities and housework. (It’s sort of awesome.) What that means is that my attention is no longer split between a thousand other things I’m forced to stuff inside my head. I can actually focus a lot of my mental headspace on what I’m studying. I can afford to take an interest, to practice until I get it right instead of taking a quick look at something and having to move on because I have homework for six more subjects due tomorrow and a test next week.
In addition, so far, it’s all proving very easy to remember. The languages I studied in high school had a lot of overlap in terms of grammar and vocabulary, which made it difficult sometimes to keep everything straight. Since I don’t know any other sign language, though, so there’s no chance of wires getting tangled in my head. I don’t have to go, “Was it ASL or NGT where the object goes first in a sentence…?”
(It might be both. No clue.)
Obviously, classes will get more complex as time goes on, and I’m sure I’ll mess words up soon enough, and I’ll probably end up wailing over my homework once I’m working on a shiny new novel and just want to pump out a couple thousand words without interruption.
But for now, I’m finally rediscovering how wonderful it feels to just learn, to take an interest in something, to study something because I want to and not because someone is making me.
Apparently, it took that long to get over my high school trauma. No wonder I write YA.