A reader writes:
I've been fluent in American Sign Language for 20 years and even have Masters in Linguistics from Gallaudet – and that video [since removed from YouTube - other copy here] in your Hathos Alert was, by far, the most disturbing thing I have ever seen in ASL. Now I'm gonna have that guy's "O" face burned into in my brain for who knows how long, so thanks for that.
You have no idea of how hilarious I found that video with the signing Jehovah's Witness (JW). I'm an ex-JW and the most amusing thing, to me, is how the translators know how to gesture a "sin" they shouldn't really know how to perform. I followed the link to the actual video and knew enough about JWs to be able to track down the actual text the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters were interpreting. It's here [pdf] if your readers want to peruse.
A deaf reader writes:
I get why it's funny, but still want to say something.
The main guy started out awkward (I was looking forward to saying "pssh, stupid hearing person making ASL look bad") but he actually is quite good at ASL. He was clear, grammatical, etc. As someone who's bicultural (deaf and hearing) it's a bit annoying for me that the video is viewed as "look at him doing funny masturbation faces hahahaha." That's ASL. You can't just do the handshapes and actually be using the language correctly. All that other stuff (expressions, body orientation, etc.) is very much part of the language.
I shifted into ASL mode after several seconds (since I'm deaf, the soundtrack – I'm assuming something by R. Kelly – didn't register at all), and I had to get myself out of that mode to figure out what would possibly be "hathos"-y about it. It was good signing. I disagree with the message of course, but it was good signing.
The other part of ASL/deaf culture is that it's very blunt and matter-of-fact. You don't use stupid euphemisms and stuff. You just tell it like it is. If you're trying to remember the name of that one person you met last week you say to your friend, "Remember, she was really fat, she had brown hair about this long, big nose, horn-rimmed glasses…?" There isn't any value judgment assigned to those things, it's just a description of what she looks like. The person so described wouldn't take any offense, either.
Same goes for sex and sexual terminology. Just use the proper signs for it and if someone gets all shocked and giggly about it that's seen as very "hearing" and/or immature. I'm not like Outraged or anything, just thought I'd offer my perspective.
Asked to elaborate more on "bicultural (deaf and hearing)", our reader follows up:
It can mean a lot of things, so for simplicity's sake I'll just say what it means for me – I became deaf as a teenager. I was young enough that I learned ASL and became part of the Deaf culture, but old enough that my "native" culture was the general hearing culture. I speak and lip-read well, so I have access to both. I learned how to switch between the two cultures, both in terms of languages (English and ASL) and cultural mores. It doesn't have to be about becoming deaf later in life though – for example, when deaf parents have a hearing child, that child is often bi-cultural (the "native" culture is deaf culture, but because that person is hearing they also operate within that culture). Hope that makes sense!