CJ Reynaldo, a deaf freelance artist, recently brought to the fore FSL (Filipino Sign Language) with his illustrations of signs that are meant to teach, inform and entertain people, including Filipino words that cannot be translated into English and slang in FSL.
Among his recent works are illustrations of how to sign Filipino curse words in FSL, which gained traction on social media.
The illustrations, which come with a initial warning of “language that may be unsuitable for younger audiences," include gestures for commonly spoken curse words in Filipino like putang ina mo (son of a bitch), pakshet (fuck and shit), hayop ka (you animal), gago ka (you silly or idiot), and lintik ka (damn you or I hope you get hit by lightning).
The 23-year-old artist shared with PhilSTAR Life that he was inspired by a YouTube video from Cut that featured deaf people sharing swear words in ASL (American Sign Language), that he wanted to draw these curse words in FSL (Filipino Sign Language).
“Some people think that we have a ‘secret insult’ in FSL so they are dying of curiosity,” shared CJ, who took up Fine Arts major in Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
Let's f**king learn how to sign Filipino curse words in Filipino Sign Language (FSL)! pic.twitter.com/L4ShCvwdFh— Caldatelier (@caldatelier) August 23, 2021
Just by looking at the comments section of CJ’s posts on social media, people (deaf and hearing) were drawn to the illustrations for a myriad of reasons—from those simply thankful for having these words added to their FSL knowledge to those who are planning to learn them when they play multiplayer online battle arena video games, which has a reputation of having many players that hurling expletives when they get tilted in the game.
Though there are some people who applauded the artist for bringing FSL to the fore, CJ admits that he feels a tinge of regret after he created the post. According to CJ, he is concerned that hearing people might use the FSL swear words against deaf people.
CJ also raised concerns that some hearing people don’t involve themselves with the deaf community or interact with deaf people. He said this indifferent attitude towards Deaf people are some of the culprits why discrimination and stereotyping are still happening in the community.
“You hear swear words everywhere. I think it’s important for people to learn how to sign curse words not just for themselves but also for the Deaf community,” CJ admited.
But according to CJ and experts in FSL, though curse words are very much present and are being used in informal sign conversations, these are not being taught in FSL courses or used in formal settings like in the classroom. So hearing people who would like to learn how to sign should be careful when signing curse words.
“I want hearing people to understand and appreciate the Deaf culture by learning FSL instead of just the curse words. If they want to learn this, I truly encourage them to ask for words that are important and useful within the communication,” CJ said.
The visual language that is FSL
According to Patrick Ablaza, a Deaf FSL researcher from the Center for Education Advancement of the Deaf at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, FSL is a natural, visual language, with its own linguistic attributes.
“As with spoken languages, signed languages also convey meaning and messages that the speaker wants to convey to its listener. This includes cursing,” Ablaza told PhilSTAR Life.
He added, “Just because the Deaf people can’t hear doesn’t mean they can’t curse. If hearing people curse when they get very angry, Deaf people can, too.”
Each country has its own sign language according to Ablaza but are influenced by colonizations like Spanish words that are interweaved in Tagalog language.
By just browsing the comments section of CJ’s social media posts, many have pointed out that FSL is highly similar to American Sign Language, to which Ablaza confirmed true.
“Some signs may have a different meaning in other countries. For example, the infamous middle finger, it may not have a negative impact on the Japanese Deaf community as it means ‘brother’ in Japanese Sign Language,” he explained.
Context is key
Just like cursing in other languages, cursing in FSL must be done according to context, said Raymond Manding, a deaf advocacy program coordinator of Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS).
“Cursing is acceptable as a form of expression in informal conversations but not in formal situations,” Manding shared with PhilSTAR Life. “Hearing people who learn curse words in sign language must be cautious in using these according to the situation.”
Those who want to learn these curse words in FSL may do so by interacting with Deaf people in the community setting, Manding, a consultant of the youth section of the Philippine Federation of the Deaf, suggests.
Facial expressions play a big part in signing
Meanwhile, Benilde SDEAS administrator and faculty Bernadette Infanta noted that the Deaf use curse words when talking to people they are familiar with, either for fun or to show anger.
“A slight change in facial expression may indicate a change in tone and intention for saying a bad word. For example, one may use the same sign for a certain bad word but may say it in anger or in jest depending on the facial expression,” explained Infanta, who is also a deaf relay interpreter for the Philippine National Association of Sign Language Interpreters.
This is backed by Ablaza, who explained that similar to spoken languages, the message of the curse signs is affected by how you say it.
“If you sign the middle finger to a friend with a smile, it will come out as a joke or a funny reaction to something that happened or something said. But if you deliver it with intense emotion (say, very angry), signing wide and fast, its message will be totally different and you’d know it’s not time to laugh,” said Ablaza.
Though cruse words are not usually considered as academic, Infanta acknowledges their necessity.
“For example, President Duterte tends to use a lot of bad words during his speeches. Interpreters need to sign those accurately so the Deaf will know what the President is saying,” she noted.
Through his art that are mostly inspired by Disney and anime like Studio Ghibili’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, CJ, who was born deaf, hopes to raise awareness about deafness and Deaf issues and “make a better world for the Deaf community.”
Aside from his freelance and personal projects—some of them you can see in his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages—CJ is working on a graphic novel about deafness and Deaf issues. Among his creative influences include Disney artist Brittney Lee, and Matt Daigle, an American Deaf comic artist and creator of That Deaf Guy comics.
For those who would like to learn FSL or sign language in general, there are videos available online that can help them with their self-learning, but CJ notes that they should look for Deaf tutors and experts who do these. And another option is to take a sign language class if one is willing to be involved in the Deaf community.
He also notes that if you are not sure about a particular word in FSL, seek help from deaf experts to teach you this. “Never invent your own sign that does not exist in the dictionary as that is so offensive if you are not fluent in FSL.”
Beyond entertainment, CJ’s art is aimed at spreading awareness and churning conversations on FSL. With this, the artist hopes that more people will be involved with the Deaf community.
“Importantly, please try to be nice and patient with Deaf people even if you don’t understand them,” he said.
Banner and thumbnail illustrations by CJ Reynaldo. Special thanks to the Jaila Guillermo of the Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies.