An interesting news story (sent to me by Kelly Nestruck—thanks, Kelly!)
Deaf signs ruled offensive
Political correctness has caught up with sign language for deaf people. Gestures used to depict ethnic and religious minorities and homosexuals are being dropped because they are now deemed offensive.
The abandoned signs include “Jewish”, in which a hand mimes a hooked nose; the sign for “gay”, a flick of a limp wrist; and “Chinese”, in which the index fingertips pull the eyes into a slant. Another dropped sign is that for “Indian”, which is a finger pointing to an imaginary spot in the middle of a forehead.
The signs have been declared off-limits by the makers of Vee-TV, Britain’s Channel 4 program for deaf people, for fear of being accused of racism and homophobia. Caroline O’Neill, a researcher at Vee-TV, explained: “We have a sign language monitor on the channel who checks that what we are doing is culturally appropriate.”
The decision sparked controversy:
Critics labelled the move as silly, saying that the producers were interfering with “deaf culture”.
Polly Smith, the acting chairperson of the British Council for Disabled People, said the changes were a form of discrimination.
“The program makers at Channel 4 are interfering with deaf people’s language, culture and view of society, and that is a form of discrimination,” she said.
However, Ms O’Neill defended the move. She said that the program, launching its fourth series today, used modern alternative signs that were not offensive.
“Before, [the sign for Jewish] was connected to a stereotypical Jewish nose, but now it’s a hand sign that mimics the shape of the menorah [a ceremonial candlestick used in Judaism],” she said.
The sign for “Indian” is now a mime of the triangular shape of the subcontinent; “Chinese” is the right hand travelling from the signer’s heart across his chest horizontally, then down towards his hip, mimicking the tunic worn in China; and the sign for “gay” is an upright thumb on one hand in the palm of the other, wobbling from side to side…
Deaf people, presumably, work out their vocabulary without much reference to the decisions of Vee-TV, but I wonder what percentage of the population uses which signs.