Portraits of an English Double Major: Hannah Pearson
Majors: English and American Sign Language (ASL)
Hometown: Easley, SC
Why did you choose to double major?
I always knew I wanted to major in English. I was lucky enough to go to a high school where I concentrated in creative writing and had great instructors. They really encouraged us to take undergrad courses that we were interested in even if it didn’t make sense. So I thought about other languages, too. I took Spanish for three years in high school, but it didn’t stick with me. When I was poking around the internet, I found Clemson’s ASL program. I believe it’s the only ASL program in the Southeast. It really stood out to me that Clemson has this hidden gem in the English department, so it just all made sense.
What interested you in an English major?
I think that writers should be around other writers: in a writing community, in writing programs, or just in clubs around each other. I also like the literature side, the literature research. Communications classes are very different from a course on Shakespeare which is very different from a class on Photoshop. But we are English majors we get to do all of those! Now I’m a junior and get to take my first creative writing class, and it just feels right. So I like how full the scope of the English major is.
I was surprised when I started researching at how little I knew about the language; how little I knew about deaf culture. ASL is its own style separate from English. There are hundreds of sign languages around the world (ASL is the one used in America and a few other countries as well). The language has its own grammar, it’s visual, non-linear, a lot of things that English is not. We have this really active ASL club, and every week we meet downtown at some restaurant with a lot of local deaf community members and professors, and we use sign language. At my first meeting, all I knew how to say was my name. That’s ALL I knew, but I signed it. I remember leaving my first meeting thinking, “That was cool.” I knew I made the right choice after that.
What classes have you taken so far that you believe intertwined these two majors well together?
I can see the overlap anytime a class talks about grammar or linguistics class whether in ASL or English. I remember one of my professors, Professor Misener Dunn, started graphing a sentence out. I also like that there isn’t overlap sometimes. I feel like they can be two separate fields and I really enjoy that too.
In what ways do these majors complement each other?
I like walking into an English class where I’ve read the book, I’ve written my paper, and I have things to say. I feel very comfortable in an English classroom, and I feel like I’m relatively smart. Then when I walk into an ASL classroom, and my Professor is deaf, and I can’t talk to them except for in their own language (a language that I barely know), I don’t feel smart. I definitely don’t feel comfortable since the grammar is different and it’s a visual way of thinking. It’s challenging, but in that way, they complement each other.
What opportunities does this double major give you?
I think that learning ASL has opened up a lot of doors and a lot that I haven’t seen yet but are probably still there. It’s a great conversation starter; I was at my internship the other day and someone very important walked in and was asking about our names and majors. The moment I said ASL, everyone’s eyes lit up. It’s weird, it’s interesting, it’s a very rare major and a very small department. In that way, it helps me to stand out, especially being well versed in more than one language.
Hannah’s tip: The only way to get better at a language is to speak to the experts.
Stay tuned for next issues’ student spotlight!
Written By: Brooke Tannehill