Building a Glossary
Deaf printers utilized printing-specific American Sign Language vocabularies to describe and discuss the day-to-day work at The Washington Post. These signs were passed down, from one printer to the next, in the work rooms of residential deaf schools and in printing shops across the country.
The language used by Deaf printers included terms that are specific to the field of printing, such as linotype, mark-up, pagination, slug, paste-up, and dupe. As new technologies reshaped the practices of printing, Deaf printers developed new signs to describe their work. These signs were learned "on-the-job" from one another and passed down between generations of printers.
Entries were solicited from retired Deaf printers. Some signs were filmed for the glossary, others were captured during interviews.
For each entry we have filmed a retired printer using the sign and provided a definition for the sign in English. Each entry also includes an illustration of the sign. We have developed these illustrations with feedback from our advisory team and using the videos as models for sign production.
Imprinting Sign Heritage
None of these signs are known to young Deaf people today. These specific signs are known only to Deaf printers who trained and worked in this field. Documenting these unique vocabularies has value in preserving language forms which are now endangered, and known only to a dwindling number of retired printers who are no longer working.
The technologies and workplace practices described in these signs are no longer commonly utilized in newspaper printing. The rapid transformation of print technology over the last several decades led to the decline and loss of spaces where Deaf people worked and coexisted alongside their hearing colleagues at The Washington Post. The signs utilized by Deaf printers represent and reflect the realities of those experiences, and they are disappearing.
Preserving these signs documents a trade that was widely taught in residential schools for white Deaf students from the mid-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. Many of the American Sign Language vocabularies for printing work likely originated in these educational contexts, passed from one generation to the next from teacher to student in vocational training classes. Entering the workforce, and often the Printers Union, Deaf printers carried these signs into and between print shops across the country, further standardizing these language forms.
These signs are essential to the stories told by Deaf printers. They are embedded with meanings that are both cultural and linguistic. They depict the complex components of workplace technologies, they reflect daily communication strategies with signers and nonsigners at work, and they reinforce the social connection between the Deaf printers who worked alongside one another for decades.
Despite the widespread use of these signs amongst Deaf printers, they have not been preserved. Prior to the advent of video technologies, sign languages have largely defied documentation. As an embodied, visual-kinesthetic language without a written form, tracing the use of American Sign Language in the past is difficult without access to signers or video recordings of signers. Capturing these signs in “virtual print” documents a trade that was common to predominantly white Deaf individuals from the late-nineteenth century. Documenting these signs is recording cultural heritage that was passed on from teacher to pupil, from parent to child, employer to employee that will remain with us through the Deaf Printers Pages.