An international convention on sign language held in Austin, Texas was turned into a shambles when the representatives realized they had no idea what the other representatives were ‘talking’ about.
Frustration at not being understood soon turned into angry confrontation. Official hand signs were abandoned for offensive common hand signals. The Iraqi representative , remonstrating with his American counterpart , mimicked blowing himself up. The American responded by pretending to be a cruise missile and was seen to mouth the words: “God bless America”.
Proceedings then quickly descended into widespread mimicking of throat slitting and disembowelment by sword.
All representatives were admitted to the Austin Memorial Hospital with severe exhaustion. It sure is tiring telling someone you want to kill them in sign language!
Naturally evolved sign languages embraced by the deaf community (in contrast to coded languages that are created by the hearing society to represent the spoken language) often use facial expressions and even have their own ‘words’ which are expressed by movement of the mouth.
Unfortunately those words can be similar to the words of another sign language but with completely different meanings. For example, and this was apparently the conversation that caused the outbreak of communicated violence, the New Zealander ‘told’ the Irish representative : “Rtyu ftui dfroo r meeni nuit!” (“Hope you’re having a wonderful time!”). In Irish Sign Language those words translate as “Your mother is a whore!”
Furthermore the exaggerated facial expressions of American Sign Language ( involving a lot of teeth and smiling, like those overacting extras you see in bars and cafes on US sitcoms) began to annoy the other representatives.
As did the fact that the Americans didn’t have signs for the other countries because before the convention they had no idea other countries existed.
The Australian was getting on everyone’s nerves by standing up close and mouthing “Crikey!” into their ears instead of to their face.
The debacle has renewed calls for a universal sign language.
In actual fact the United Nations (trying to save money: all those headphones cost a fortune) briefly trialled a universal tactile sign language. Examples included:-
Arm around shoulder: “We are all brothers and sisters”
Hand shake: “Fruitful dialogue has taken place”
Touching each other when you’re all in agreement is a noble idea however when there was disagreement the tactile language developed ugly forms:-
Spitting in the left eye: “You Stalinist stooge!”
Right jab to the nose: “You humanist fence sitting dog!”
Tactile sign language had an even more violent form in the New York City Sign Language (NYCSL) during the 1970’s:-
Knee to the face: “Take that you honky”
Kick to the throat: “Do you understand that you black b*st*rd?”
Elbow to the ear: “Is it all clear now you Asiatic turd?”
Of course the first official discriminatory and brutal tactile language was in Nazi Germany. Extreme examples of the NSL used by deaf Nazis were as follows:-
(Actually) Shooting a jew with a machine gun: “Kike son of a bitch!”
(Actually) Lynching a homosexual from a tree: “You poofter you!”
Non-jewish and heterosexual deaf Nazis abandoned the language when they discovered that the Nazi hearing community planned on shooting and lynching them also.
The GJSL (German Jewish Sign Language) had as part of its vocabulary the shooting of Nazis (“Die you Aryan Supremacist mother f#ck#r!”) but being a pacifist language they used blanks.