Monday, April 16, 2012

"Signs" Of The TImes: TSL, MTSL And ASL

The clip here today was taken at JJ/Chatuchak Weekend Market. By the time I'd gotten my video recorder out, on and started I'd missed most of the conversation, which a cousin (who signs well) tells me seemed to be more or less the woman in blue saying "just get me three or four - and don't be slow about it, I'm not a patient person."  My cousin doesn't know Thai sign language and there are regional differences, as you'd expect. Not what I'd call really fascinating talk, but it was still interesting to see her somewhat exaggerated manner of signing.  I've only seen people sign in Thailand maybe 10 times, total.

Having been acquainted with a few deaf folks over the years I tend to be more aware of people around me that are communicating via signing with their hands than some people are. For some of them it's a necessity, and for others it's another language they've learned to communicate, rather like learning French - and if I watch them a bit I can usually tell if their hearing is compromised or if they're simply talking with someone who can't hear them properly for whatever reason.

It's not foolproof radar, as seen in the post from April 18th of 2010. In that story the deaf man selling pop-up cards along the beach didn't set it off, although perhaps it should have; I'd figured he was having a "blah" day and was simply trudging his way through it. As you can see below, he wasn't exactly an enthusiastic beacon of smiling salesmanship.

If you've read it you know the story had a happy ending. I haven't run into him a third time, but I've seen similar cards in other places in Thailand noted as being made by the hearing impaired and have learned it's a shared craft.

More often than not what you'd encounter here stateside are hearing impaired or deaf people who will hold out a card not much larger than the cards I made up for the Sexy Movie DVD touts.  The cards show small icons that illustrate the letters of the alphabet as used by those who communicate via ASL, or American Sign Language. Sometimes there's an insignificant item attached to it - a miniature candy cane around Christmas, for example - but most of the time it's just the card.  On the reverse is a brief explaination; something along the lines of "Hello. I am deaf and sell this card to make a living. Please donate whatever you feel is fair." You make a donation and receive the card. The card vendors along the beaches of Thailand now carry a larger version that alert you that they're hearing impaired, and I think that's a great idea.  Wish I'd have thought of it for them.

Skeptics have commented "Oh, you fell for the line about them really being deaf, did you?", and it's possible we do sometimes.  I suppose if you set off a firecracker next to your beach chair after they'd turned away you might make one of them jump and give themselves away, but my guess is most of the reaction would be from the aging farang around you as their pacemakers kicked in.

Thai Sign Language alphabet card - 49 vs the 26 for English

The TSL (Thai Sign Language) alphabet card is above. The most reliable info I can find on it is that TSL was an extension of ASL (American Sign Language) brought to Thailand in the 1950s, but there are suggestions it's more reliably rooted in the Old Chiang Mai Sign Language and Old Bangkok Sign Language which were already in place.

A dear friend from an old relationship said he and his best friend in high school learned to sign so they could talk in class.  Since he went into social work it's continued to be an asset to him while dealing with hearing-impaired clients.  I was at a gay workshop at a convention many years ago where there was a person doing ASL signing for the deaf attendees and afterwards I heard someone asking him how to say "I'm a grower, not a shower", which naturally got a laugh from all of us within earshot.

If you're interested in learning more about signing in Thailand there's an interesting and rather extensive web site about it here: Thai Disabilities Development Foundation. There you'll find the cards above and below and a number of other vocabulary help, as well as other resources.

For now, though, just be grateful if you can hear well.


mahjongguy said...

The deaf vendor you pictured was one of the highlights of Dong Tarn beach. He's still around; saw him there back in November.

My friend bought a card from him that read "I Love You", signed it, then handed it right back to him. It took the guy a second to catch on but then he really put out a wonderful smile.

khunbaobao said...

He does indeed have a lovely smile. The little ASL I learned has faded over the years, but I was able to communicate with him in a very limited fashion the time I did get him to smile. Frankly, I think it was more out of surprise than anything else, but it's a nice memory.

I can only imagine how isolated he must feel much of the day, not being able to understand the various languages he encounters there other than the repeated visual rejections, unless he's REALLY experienced at lip reading.

Thanks for that, mahjongguy.