Sunday, July 1, 2012

33: Dirty Words: Deaf Wages and Smutty ASL

Should we be fighting against someone publishing an ASL book with smutty words? This can of worms has expanded to a petition on claiming that just such a book, compiled by a non-Deaf novice signer, exploits the Deaf community and American Sign Language, and beseeching St. Martin's Press to cancel publication of the book.

First of all, I do think that the outrage is appropriately placed. It makes me think of the Deaf Wage discussion in the UK, where their Deaf community is beginning to realize how many hearing people earn a wage from the Deaf community. Hearing people throughout American history have taken advantage of Deaf Americans and American Sign Language to make money. How many ASL dictionaries, for example, have been composed by hearing people with little or no ties to the community? I can point to many examples of online dictionaries with very little if any Deaf input. How much of the profit goes back into the Deaf community? How many Baby ASL books have been produced? How many millions have been created by leeches who latch onto the fact that ASL, even half-assed ASL, is so fucking beautiful that it'll make money no matter what?

The Deaf Wage is everywhere. How many schools for Deaf people or programs are run by people who don't know anything about Deaf people or work with our community? How many people prefer to hire interpreters than hire Deaf workers? How many people work in Deaf schools and programs but give nothing back? Meanwhile, there's Deaf people fighting just to gain a toehold in employment.

Kristen Hensen is making a Deaf Wage. She's been profiting from attention to her YouTube videos (which by the way aren't captioned... effectively cutting off the Deaf community from the opportunity to give her real criticism, perhaps on purpose) and now a book... But.

(You know me, there's always a but.)

Maybe a better response, instead of censorship, is to produce a better, more accurate book, created by Deaf people with a Deaf focus. Not because I think that's more fair–money will still be sucked away from our community. We do need a clear example of what differences would arise in a Deaf-centric publication.

For example, "Fuck you, you fucking fuck" should not be translated into ASL as "Middle finger you, sex fuck!" I mean it comes across as a psychotic individual saying "Fuck you, let's have sex!" We just don't have that expression in ASL. (We have others.)

It's like translating "├ža me fait chier" as "please do pee on me" instead of "that pisses me off." (The French wouldn't be amused, either.)

I invite everybody to find interesting Hensenizations of ASL on her youtube (google, I won't link to that stuff)! And: go sign the petition.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting about this. The Deaf Wage is a great way of framing Henson's work- and something we have been resisting for so long. I do want to comment that this isn't censorship-this is a protest against "bad speech"- which has been defined by the Supreme Court and throughout U.S. history. There's a fine line but we're on the side of protesting bad speech because we are not protesting the CONTENT but the WHO. That's an important difference. Last but not least: YES, let's go make our own videos and publish our own material- doing it much, much, much better!

ninefingers said...

I don't know if this would be classified as "bad speech;" every language has profanity, so it's not pretending something exists or was done. It's just a really poor translation that winds up being entertaining because of ignorance rather than talent. :) But the "bad speech" concept is maybe the most convincing to me that this isn't a censoring action so far. I'm glad you like my idea of simply posting better works. Sometimes, clear superiority is a better answer than legal action.

St. Martin's Press, would you accept as a substitute a book of smutty ASL composed by people who actually use ASL and won't wind up telling people to sign "Let's get helicopter landing" instead of "Let's get it on?" (/tongueoutofcheek)

Anonymous said...

Aren't HEARING people the biggest buyer of ASL-related material? All those ASL-students over the years amount to a chunk of change.

The "bad speech" dodge is an attempt to pull an end run around freedom of the press. ANYBODY is free to make money, especially deaf people -- go for it! Make a product and empty hearing people's pocketbooks!

Then there's this:

ninefingers said...

So you think hearing people don't deserve quality ASL materials?

It's okay to produce crappy ASL as long as hearing people buy it? Smile. These people are saying Deaf people go around signing like this. Have you seen her youtube videos? It's a serious embarrassment. This isn't about -isms. It's about quality.

Although, to be honest, I think anyone who complains about people thinking about -isms is a little stupid, don't you?

Anonymous said...

A decent book already exists.

ninefingers said...

The book you suggest is also created by non-native users. Several comments on Amazon from people who've purchased the book criticize the signs and, additionally, say that the book is pretty thin and padded with regular signs that aren't curses at all. I like this review:

"There are more regular language signs in this book than slang or "dirty". Don't buy this book if you know the signs for good morning, what's up,happy, great, your welcome. Many of the slang and dirty signs are just English word order using ASL signs. Some signs pictured (there are no descriptions) will be unclear to a novice signer. Few secrets here. Save your money. Ask your deaf friends for signs or go to a workshop on "dirty signs"."