People with hearing impairments (like the two ladies who recently one regional elections) in Japan sign to communicate, and, as you might expect, they don’t use American Sign Language (ASL)! Japanese Sign Language (JSL) is called 手話 (shu-wa, lit. “hand language”), and though people with hearing impairments have faced an uphill battle for recognition, the “Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities” that came into law in 2011 officially recognizes JSL as a language. Among the growing number of advocates, is Kiko Princess Akishino of the Japanese Imperial Family who is a trained sign language interpreter.
As with any other sign language, JSL consists of signs for nouns, verbs, adjectives, or any other part of a sentence, including suffixes indicating tense and negation. Another important aspect is 口話 (ko-wa, lit. “mouth talk”) or mouthing, where the person signing will mouth the word they are signing to help distinguish between similar ideas (ie “house” and “home”). Facial expressions are also very important. Gestures for the phonetic elements have been introduced as well, but are mostly only used when talking about foreign names.
As JSL is based on Japanese with its heavy emphasis on writing, when signing, many people will write characters in the air. This is mostly used for conveying names or places or to distinguish between one of the many Japanese homonyms.
Shu-wa de Hanaso! (Let’s Speak in Sign Language!)
There is a fantastic channel on YouTube dedicated to teaching Japanese Sign Language – Shu-wa de Hanaso. And when I say fantastic, I mean it – they have over 3,500 videos of vocabulary and dialogue! While this might be overwhelming, JSL can have some signs that are easy to understand like kaze or the common cold:
Why not check out their channel? Oh, right… all the titles are in Japanese!
Its not perfect, but putting the channel URL into Google Translate can give you a general idea of things, but has some wonkey behavior. Maybe we should start a “sign of the week” on Twitter or Facebook? Let me know!