I am making some videos to help some people at church learn JSL. (And good thing I decided to post this, because it reminded me to burn the DVDs). I don’t claim to be an expert, but I at least know some things, and since they want to learn, I might as well do something to help.
Anyway, I mentioned to a friend that I probably should have smiled to make the videos more pleasant. His solution: have the camera panned on my hands, with my face unseen. I tried to explain, but I didn’t do a very good job. My friend quickly said something like, “Why would I care about your face? It’s sign language.”
Most people just assume that sign language is only hand movements. It’s not, though. Signs can include eye movements, facial expressions, shoulder movements, leg movements, full body movements… In fact, non-manual aspects of a sign can change the entire meaning of a sign. In JSL, it can show whether someone is asking a question, or making a statement.
In (Jamaican) Country Sign, there are even signs that don’t use a hand at all. Take a look at the sign for rabbit:
Making a video in sign language (at least JSL) and not showing the full upper body (and, in some cases, even the lower body) does injustice to the language. It would be like cutting out some of the syllables and punctuations from an English video.
The same mentality that my friend has is, I believe, the reason behind the kind of signing performance in with glowing gloves sign in pitch black. The faces, the shoulders, the chests, all immersed in shadow.
It may be pretty, but, unfortunately, it’s just hands.