Saturday, 15 November 2008

Stan Boardman Hates Germans


Politic
al Correctness

I've been learning British Sign Language for nearly two years now, and have just started on a three year course to become a sign language interpreter.

As far as I can see, BSL is a very direct language and has little patience with circumlocution and political correctness. I'm told that in medical settings the Deaf are likely to be totally direct in their use of very graphic signs to denote bodily functions in comparison with the hearing and their shamefaced euphemisms.

Until fairly recently, political correctness and BSL had not made each other's acquaintance. Nowadays though, Signs like gay (limp wrist), Chinese (pulling at the outer corners of the eyes with the forefingers), Africa (washing the face) and Indian (thumb tip between the brows) are rapidly being phased out.

However, signs linked to Germany seem to have been overlooked. The sign for German or Germany still resembles a World War 1 style spiked helmet. I still can't quite get used to the sign for Hitler being two fingers of the left hand held below the nose to resemble a small moustache, accompanied by a Nazi salute with the right hand, a sign that any schoolboy of yesteryear would have recognised instantly. I've seen this sign used by sign language interpreters in a number of completely solemn situations and always wonder what the hearing members of the audience make of it.

This brings me to my worry of the day. When there is a sign language interpreter present in any setting, and the speaker says something rude, it is almost inevitable that all the heads of the hearing section of the audience will instantly snap round to watch how the interpreter will sign it. For example, the sign denoting an embryo being implanted during IVF is eye-wateringly graphic. I just can't see myself ever being able to keep a straight face.

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