My friends at church know that I’m learning Sign Language. So, they asked me if I could teach them the Sign Language for a song the Feast of Tabernacles this year. I told them yes, I could try to translate it. But then they went on to talk about gloves and glowing in the dark and that’s when I said no, I won’t be doing that. The reasons I gave:
- Deaf people are offended by that (here in Jamaica anyway)
- It’s hard to see signs when the signer is wearing gloves
- In the dark when the gloves are glowing, it’s just an unintelligible blur
- JSL is not just about hands
They didn’t really let me get past the first reason. They said it doesn’t matter because there won’t be any Deaf there. But they said, okay, if I don’t want to do it, fine.
I don’t believe it makes any sense to use a language if people who are native users of the language wouldn’t understand it. We hearing people tend to just use language as pretty hand movements, not as a means of true communication. I would feel guilty doing it even if no Deaf was there. I would feel like I was perpetuating the hearing ideas that JSL is really just English that you sign; and that the Deaf appreciate and understand (often, they don’t) such performances.
Many times friends who “know JSL” are actually doing something else altogether, with their ‘am’, ‘is’, ‘-ing’, English structure. They know what I call “church sign”, which is often a mixture of Signed English, ASL, JSL and some unknown sources (I would just call it “rubbish”, but I’m trying to be nice).
A Deaf lady once told me that hearing often come up to Deaf signing this way and that Deaf end up bored with the conversation. Signed English can feel like such a linear language for someone who knows JSL; and a foreign one at that.
That’s something I would not want to perpetuate.
In all fairness, I don’t think my friends know that Sign Language is not just English to hands, but that it involves non-manuals as well; and that the structure of the sentences are often quite different than English. If it comes up again, maybe I should tell them…