The deaf community sees red over signs

A Channel 8 Chinese current affairs programme showed a trainer from a People's Association (PA) SkillsFuture course teaching sign language.
A Channel 8 Chinese current affairs programme showed a trainer from a People's Association (PA) SkillsFuture course teaching sign language.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK

Association unhappy about 'inaccurate' signs used in Channel 8 current affairs programme

The Singapore Association for the Deaf said it is troubled by a Channel 8 Chinese current affairs programme, known as "Hello Singapore", which showed a trainer from a People's Association (PA) SkillsFuture course teaching sign language.

The association, which represents individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, said the signs were "inaccurate" and that the trainer is not on the association's list of sign language instructors.

Moreover, the trainer was demonstrating Signing Exact English (SEE), and not Singapore Sign Language (SgSL), which the deaf community in Singapore uses.

The association said SEE is not a sign language. In the United States, the deaf community uses American Sign Language (ASL). And on its website, SEE makes it clear it is not a replacement for ASL.

While ASL is about facilitating communication, SEE is about developing an understanding of the English language which allows users "to effectively read and write English, despite not being able to hear the spoken words".

In an open letter to the PA on the Singapore Association for the Deaf's Facebook page, the association said: "(SEE is) a sign system which, as its name implies, follows English exactly in terms of word order and grammar.

"It visually represents spoken language on the hands and can be used simultaneously with voiced English."

UPSET

What gets our goat is seeing people who are not deaf and who are not well-versed in sign language (as it is used in real life) going on TV to 'teach' sign language to the public.

MR ALVAN YAP, a freelance writer who is deaf.

  • MORE CLARITY

  • Singapore Sign Language (SgSL)

    • What the Singapore deaf community uses

    • SgSL has its own grammar and linguistic structure which is different from those of spoken and written languages.

    Signing Exact English (SEE)

    • Not a sign language

    • It is a sign system which follows English exactly in terms of word order and grammar. It visually represents spoken language on the hands and can be used simultaneously with voiced English.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the association said SgSL has its own grammar and linguistic structure which is different from those of spoken and written languages.

In contrast, SEE is an expanded system with prepositions, pronouns, affixes, tenses and finger-spelt words to visually represent the English language.

Mr Alvan Yap, 40, a freelance writer who is deaf, explained that SEE is not actually used by deaf persons among themselves in daily conversation.

"What gets our goat is seeing people who are not deaf and who are not well-versed in sign language (as it is used in real life) going on TV to 'teach' sign language to the public," said Mr Yap.

Ms Lily Goh, 38, an entrepreneur who is also deaf, said SgSL has a history of around 60 years and has localised vocabulary, such as for MRT station names and for local food.

"It is unique to Singapore," she said. "We hope that it becomes our official sign language here and we need to advocate for it and protect it."

PA responded on the association's Facebook page saying it requires course instructors to show proof of their qualifications, and their ability to conduct courses.

"Nevertheless, we have noted the feedback, and concur that there could be more alignment with 'Singapore Sign Language' curriculum.

"PA will evaluate and look forward to the opportunity to work with your organisation to strengthen this alignment, in building a more inclusive community together," it added.

The association was also upset that the programme used the term "deaf mute" to describe the deaf and hard of hearing community.

"Deaf people (that is, those with hearing loss) are not mute. Their vocal cords are functional, they can speak, they can use their voice. So it is self-evident why the term 'deaf mute' is inaccurate and offensive. It also perpetuates the misconception and false stereotype of deaf people as mute," explained Mr Yap.

To sum up the issue, Ms Goh said those who can hear should have more patience and mindfulness towards the deaf community.

"There is a need to have respect for us. We are not looking for any help. But we need to be empowered."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2017, with the headline 'The deaf community sees red over signs'. Print Edition | Subscribe