The Null Device

Signs of the times

A survey of British Sign Language users, asking signers of various ages to show the signs for various ethnic and other minority groups, has revealed that signs based on stereotypes have been replaced by more neutral signs; well, in most cases:
It is no longer acceptable to sign a slanted eye when talking about the Chinese or to mime a hook nose when referring to Jewish people. The flick of a limp wrist is now an offensive signal for homosexuals. A finger pointing to an imaginary spot in the middle of a forehead is no longer appropriate as the sign for India.
As for the new, culturally sensitive equivalents? Well, Chinese people wear Mao jackets and Jews have beards. India is indicated by the triangular shape of its continent, and being gay is indicated, for some reason, by “an upright thumb on one hand in the palm of the other, wobbling from side to side”. Meanwhile, France is no longer represented by pantomiming the twirling of a moustache, but instead by the comb of a cockerel (the symbol of France).

Did I say in most cases? Well, the Germans, it seems, are still the Huns of the Great War in Deaf Britain:

All British signers put their fist to their forehead with a finger pointing straight up, mimicking the shape of a Prussian spiked helmet, to refer to Germans.
The change in sign language is analogous to the change in accepted word usage among the hearing, with older people likely to use older terms which may have become offensive since they learned them. Interestingly enough, the “offensive” signs have to an extent been reclaimed by those referred to them:
"Gay deaf people use the old sign for gay, and disabled deaf people use the traditional sign for disabled, even though no one from outside that group who was socially sensitive would use those signs any more," said Woll.

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