The issue of sign language and the deaf community has sparked renewed attention recently in the Philippines. This was after viewing the second State of the Nation Address of our very controversial and unorthodox (talk about all the badmouth words) yet very popular President Rodrigo Duterte last Monday, July 24.
I was assigned by PNASLI, the national association of sign language interpreters, to do interpreting together with Dean of College of St. Benilde and my “kumare” Nicky Templo-Perez at GMA-7, a regular or “suki”. Actually, it was in GMA7 where I first interpreted in SONA way back in 2010. This year, aside from the local private TV stations, it’s the first time the government TV Channel 4 aired the SONA with inset sign language interpreting. And they were very fortunate to have their interpreting right inside the halls of the House of Representatives itself where the actual action is happening.
However, they did not get their interpreters from the pool of PNASLI people. Instead, they got the services of the Philippine Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (PRID), the oldest existing organization that trains and deploys interpreters in the country. As an alumnus and a proud product of PRID, I was truly excited that they have participated in such a momentous event. Interpreting in one setting is what I really dreamed of. I have been aspiring that all TV stations will broadcast the President’s SONA using one interpreter.
But I won’t be dwelling much on that. I would like to emphasize on the recent news coming from Senator Bam Aquino pushing for the Filipino Sign Language Bill in the Senate. He said he was grateful for the sign language interpreters during the SONA because of their efforts to deliver the message of the President to our fellow Filipinos who are deaf. Aquino is the author of Senate Bill No. 966 or the Filipino Sign Language Act, which seeks to declare FSL as the national sign language of the Filipino Deaf and “the official language of the Philippine government in all transactions with the Deaf.” He also mentioned that many saluted or lauded the interpreters for making the sign language available to deaf persons during the two-hour SONA.
It was a really welcoming news item. But then, a handful of people who commented on the news in social media were so distasteful and exposing their ignorance about sign language and its use. Someone even suggested that the Senator should focus his efforts on how he can assist the deaf by putting more wheelchair ramps! Talk about mixed disabilities. Still another guy recommended that the Filipino deaf use the internationally accepted American Sign Language (ASL) so that he can compete globally. Really? Why would the Filipino Deaf need that? Are they applying as Call Center Operators or work overseas? Yet another one opines that supporting FSL is for the sake of Filipino pride and acknowledgment of its existence. Well, what’s wrong with that? He even emphasized that sign language is universal so there’s no need to create a new one. Does he have a concrete basis sign language is universal?
Did you know that Filipinos have different names describing rice, our staple food? We have palay for unmilled rice, bigas for milled rice, kanin for cooked rice, lugaw for rice porridge, tutong for burned rice, bahaw for leftover rice and sinangag for fried rice. You might also be surprised that each of these words has a distinct Filipino Sign Language.
Another distinct difference between ASL and FSL is through fingerspelling. Look at the illustration below.
I have met people who brag by saying they are well versed in ASL. But when I observed their signs, I can easily distinguish it from Signed Exact English (SEE) or Pidgin Sign English (PSE). So it’s either they don’t know what they’re talking about or they are plain ignorant. (Is there a difference?)