Saturday, July 25, 2009


Saying "thank you" in American Sign Language

I was the victim of stereotyping the other day.

"How much is this?" I asked the hardware store clerk. "Ten ninety-five," she said, after scanning the bar code.

"Okay," I said, proffering a twenty.

She made change, handed it to me, and said "Thank you" in American Sign Language.

She had recognized my "deaf speech."

Not so long ago I would have bristled inwardly at the clerk's clumsy lumping together of all deaf people. We do not all speak sign language. Some of us prefer speech and lipreading. However imperfect our skills may be, they help us communicate with the hearing world on its own terms. We have chosen our path and those who believe in ASL have chosen theirs.

Age and experience, however, have led me to realize that in their blissful ignorance most hearing folks in this situation mean well. That clerk wasn't patronizing, trying to be kind, or showing pity. She was simply acknowledging my humanity, even though she may have been clueless about what specific part of that humanity I belong to.

"You're welcome," I said -- again in voiced English -- with a wink and a nod.

She beamed, even though she missed the irony that I had responded in her language.

For her our brief connection must have been a small blessing in a long day.

That was fine with me.

(By the way, "kiitos" is "Thanks" in Finnish. Now you know.)


  1. You're not Finnish, are you, Henry?

  2. How do you know I'm not? You might be stereotyping me!

  3. And for you non-Finnish readers who don't know how to pronounce kiitos it's "key-toes." Yes, I know it's not put down phonetically, but you know what I mean.

    If you ever want the proper pronunciation of a word, stop at Long Term at the hospital in Ontonagon, those old time Finlanders love teaching the rest of us the language.

  4. Kiitos for the cheetos!

    Sorry, couldn't help it.

  5. The Finnish reply to your title would be ei kestä or "thank you" - more literally a sort of shortened form of "don't mention it"

    BTW, the exact pronunciation of kiitos is a bit difficult to convey through any English sound alike syllables. I would say it comes closest to GEE-dos with a hard "G" as in "geese" and a short "o" as in "or". The accent is on the first syllable, as it always is in Finnish.

    Further, the sound of the Finnish "k" is somewhere between the English "k" and "g". It is never aspirated as in English, but is a little less guttural than our "g". Likewise, the Finnish "t" is not aspirated, so ends up closer to our "d" but somewhat softer.

    (Just a little Finnish-for-the-fun-of-it).


  6. Anteeksi (oops!), of course I should have said that ei kestä means "you're welcome" - not "thank you".

    Perkele! (Damn it)

  7. Sorry, that's what 'key-toes' is what it sounds like when my residents say it. And when I say 'key-toes' they light up. I guess they realize I'm trying.

  8. Mykhal,

    Olkaa hyvä (Please), my comments were not at all intended to be a criticism - just pointing out some of the idiosyncrasies and unique aspects of Finnish. I’m sure your Finnish residents are absolutely delighted to hear someone addressing them in their mother tongue. Kiitos to you for that!

  9. It occurred to me that maybe the Finnish speakers to whom Mykhal refers are second-generation Finnish Americans, therefore have picked up American ways of pronunciation. In that case maybe both Mykhal and Hermit are right, for different reasons.