Filipino Sign Language 101

This a re-post from an Inquirer.net article which appeared last December 1. It clearly explains what Filipino Sign Language is all about courtesy of our FSL Guru, Dr. Liza Martinez. Enjoy!!!

What are sign languages?

Common misconceptions:

Signing is universal.

Signing is gesture or only pantomime.

Sign languages are based on spoken languages.

Sign languages have been demonstrated to be true languages at par with spoken languages.  Spoken languages are based on classes of sound, while sign languages are built from visual units. There are over a hundred sign languages currently recognized around the world.

The fundamental unit of structure is the Handshape, along with the other parameters of Location, Movement, Palm Orientation and Nonmanual signal. These are further organized into units which carry meaning, and then, sentences and discourse.

Sign languages have no written systems and are governed by purely visually motivated grammatical devices found in the Nonmanual signals of the face and body.

How do sign languages differ from sign systems?

Sign languages arise and grow naturally across time, within communities of persons with hearing loss. A sign language is not intrinsic to children with hearing loss but is among the set of learned behaviors within the community that is shared, nurtured and passed on.

Sign languages possess their own structure distinct from spoken and written languages.

Sign systems, on the other hand, are considered artificial since they did not arise spontaneously but were purposively created as educational tools in the development of literacy.  Artificial sign systems follow the structure and grammar of spoken and written languages.

What is Filipino Sign Language (FSL)?

Common misconceptions about Filipino Sign Language:

It is based on Filipino.

It is based on English.

It is the “same” as American Sign Language.

Like other legitimate visual languages, FSL has a hierarchy of linguistic structure based on a manual signal supplemented by additional linguistic information from Nonmanual signals of the face and body. It is the ordered and rule-governed visual communication which has arisen naturally and embodies the cultural identity of the Filipino community of signers.

It shows internal structure distinct from spoken and written languages, and other visual languages, and possesses productive processes, enabling it to respond to numerous current and emerging communication needs.

It reflects rich regional diversity in its vocabulary and bears a historical imprint of language change over time since the early beginnings of manual communication in the 16th century in Leyte.

From the lexicostatistical analysis of field data by the Philippine Federation of the Deaf (PFD), possible varieties have so far been proposed: an Eastern Visayas group (Leyte variety) and a Southern Luzon group (Southern Tagalog, Bicol and Palawan varieties).

FSL bears the historical imprint of heavy language pressure from contact with American Sign Language since the start of the century, as well as with Manually Coded English since the 1970s.

In 2004, sign linguist Liza Martinez called attention to the massive and abrupt change of the core vocabulary of FSL, which has resulted from this linguistic pressure. The PFD historical analysis in 2007 used the lexicostatistical approach and verified vocabulary elements of indigenous as well as foreign origin.

Distinguished sign linguist James Woodward has been at the forefront of pioneering research to protect endangered indigenous sign languages (including FSL) and stem the strong tide of influence from foreign sign languages and sign systems.

Who are the Filipino deaf?

These are Filipinos who have hearing loss, including those who lost their hearing early or late in life (late-deafened adults, senior citizens), the hard of hearing, those with other impairments such as the deafblind, those who communicate orally, unschooled deaf, LGBT deaf, deaf indigenous peoples and so on.

Who are  the Filipino Deaf?

They are   deaf Filipinos who use, share, nurture and promote common values (including their visual language and cultural identity) as a claim for human rights and self-determination.

How are FSL and American Sign Language related?

FSL belongs to the branch of visual languages influenced by American Sign Language together with, for example, Thai Sign Language and Kenyan Sign Language. However, the structure of FSL has changed significantly enough for it to be considered a distinct language from American Sign Language.

There is substantial evidence of widespread FSL changes in the following:

Overall form, internal structure (particularly on the inventory of handshapes and accompanying phonological processes)

Sign formation or morphological processes (such as affixation, compounding, numeral incorporation, lexicalization of finger spelling, inflections and others)

Classifier predication, grammatical features and transformational rules, enabling it to generate infinite forms of surface structure from patterns of deep structure

What is the legal basis for House Bill No. 6079?

The bill is known as “An Act Declaring Filipino Sign Language as the National Sign Language of the Filipino Deaf and the Official Language of Government in All Transactions Involving the Deaf, and Mandating Its Use in Schools, Broadcast Media and Workplaces.”

The State is duty-bound internationally and domestically to legislate HB 6079 or other laws written in the same spirit.  International commitments include its ratification of UN core treaties, e.g. the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the signing by the Philippines of the 1994 Salamanca Statement on Special Needs Education.

Department of Education (DepEd) policies include the 1997 specific guidelines on the use of FSL  as the medium of instruction for students with hearing impairment. Recent or proposed DepEd policies, such as those for Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education, the K-12 bill and the Early Years Act, already incorporate principles of full accessibility, inclusion and participation of children with disabilities.

Is this legal recognition of a national sign language taking place  only in the Philippines?

No. Forty-four countries are reported to have various levels of formal recognition for their sign languages, from constitutional status to specific legislation, polices or guidelines.

Sign language recognition continues to be an area of active lobbying with the government for Deaf communities worldwide, which invoke their right to language and communication in all aspects of their lives.

How much research has been done on FSL?

Rosalinda Macaraig Ricasa, the first Filipino hearing sign-language linguist who trained at the renowned Deaf institution, Gallaudet University (Washington), first presented in the late 1980s the observation of a possibly unique sign language in the Philippines, distinct from American Sign Language.

In 1990, Liza Martinez, the second Filipino hearing sign-language linguist who trained at the same Deaf university, conducted the first linguistic inquiry in the country. Since that time, over 80 studies on the structure and use of FSL have been undertaken and published or presented in local and international forums.

These span the fields of sign language linguistics, history, Philippine studies, literature and culture, lexicography and corpus, sign language interpreting, translation studies, language policy, education, early childhood development, human rights and machine intelligence/sign language recognition.

The Philippine Federation of the Deaf was the lead for the National Sign Language Committee, which produced the Status Report on the Use of Sign Language in the Philippines (with principal support from the Gallaudet University Alumni Association through the Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund) and the Practical Dictionaries Project, a four-country study with Vietnam, Cambodia and Hong Kong through the support of  Nippon Foundation.

Trainers for the latter project were Dr. James Woodward,

Dr. Yutaka Osugi (a Deaf sign linguist from Japan) and

Dr. Liza Martinez.

How are deaf children taught in public schools?

The National Sign Language Committee collected and evaluated videotape samples of over 150 hearing teachers in nine regions. The data show typically Sign Supported Speech or Simultaneous Communication (i.e., speaking and signing at the same time). The most frequent use of the spoken language is English, mixed with either Filipino or Cebuano.

Will HB 6079 hinder the development of literacy?

No. Section 4 (1) of the bill states that the reading and writing of Filipino, other Philippine languages and English shall still also be taught.  For a bilingual-bicultual goal in Deaf education, the first language (L1) is a fully accessible visual language (i.e., FSL), and the second language (L2) is a written language.

Shall the legal recognition of FSL as the national sign language conflict with individual autonomy?

No. A fundamental principle of the UNCRPD is individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one’s own choices (Article 3.a).

On education, Article 24.3 emphasizes that “States Parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community. To this end, States Parties shall take appropriate measures, including:

(b) Facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community;

(c) Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.”

Part (b) is a clear directive to facilitate and promote the linguistic identity of the community (i.e., FSL).  Notable is the use of the word “including” in the first paragraph (meaning, it is not exclusive) for the directive to promote this linguistic identity.

Part (c) instructs the State to make sure that schools, in pursuit of their goals and mandates, offer education that is appropriate and maximizes academic and social development.  This appears to give schools latitude in the choice and delivery through the use of various languages,  modes and means.  However, these must satisfy the requirements for fully inclusive education and maximum development.

Article 21.b directs the State to guard the freedom of expression and access to information of persons with disabilities of all forms of communication “of their choice,” while also recognizing and promoting the use of sign languages (21.e).

The most critical point here is State responsibility.  The party to the convention is the Philippine state and not any stakeholder. The State must, therefore, clearly demonstrate that it is carrying out its duty to facilitate and promote the linguistic and cultural identity of the community (Articles 21.b, e; 24.3.b, 30.4) and provide full accessibility through sign language interpretation (Article 9.2.e). Articles 21.b and 24.3.c in no way diminish State commitment to clearly promote and protect sign language and deaf culture.

What will happen if HB 6079 does not become a law?

State responsibility remains clear and does not change. It shall still need to demonstrate how it is implementing Articles 21.b, e,  24.3.b,  30.4 and 9.2.e of the UNCRPD. It shall also be accountable for the nearly two decades of neglect of its commitment to the 1994 Salamanca Statement to ensure access through a national sign language.

Existing policies of the DepEd and the judiciary relating to sign language and accessibility must still be fully implemented according to the principles and obligations of the UNCRPD.

Will the mandatory use of FSL be a barrier to unschooled deaf Filipinos?

No.  Because of its fully visual nature, FSL is the next most efficient and effective interface in communication even with a deaf person who has been isolated and is unable to use the typical sign communication of the community.  Artificial sign systems, which are sound- and alphabet-/spelling-based, shall be incomprehensible to such deaf persons.

(Dr. Liza Martinez is founder and director of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center, a member of the Philippine Coalition on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She has been actively involved in structural and sociolinguistics research on FSL for the past 22 years.)

 

Deaf Teacher-Painter Meets his Modern day Good Samaritan

This is a repost from National Council on Disability Affairs Website. Enjoy! 🙂

A local businessman-artist birthday gifted himself as a sudden inspiration, by inviting deaf teacher-artist and 2-time International Abilympics gold medallist Jose dela Cruz, to sketch friends and show his works in his party. As his wish, Jose’s genius easily got noticed, but in a big way, by one man in particular, This standout corporate young Good Samaritan (GM), from a super affluent family in the country, humbly told the interpreter after buying 2 paintings, “Please tell Lolo Jose not to forget me when he is already famous.”

Jose with Mr. Good Samaritan
Jose and Mr. Good Samaritan

His words so touched Jose and there was no stopping a mutual admiration society, sort of, between the two. Parting with his 2 most intricate and “cherished” works, Lolo Jose knew Mr. GM had the nose for masterpieces. Still reeling from the compliments, Jose was given yet another message. “Tell him I will hang his works next to my Juan Luna and other famed masterpieces, please.” This he did, when he invited Jose and the interpreter to his house weeks after.
The Interpreter, like Lolo Jose, was just as moved by the young man’s show of nobility and respect. Once more, there was proof, that disability is no barrier to excellence, and ingenuity.

Mr. GM was so moved by Lolo Jose and vows to help introduce his works to his friends.
Note: To keep Mr. GM’s identity, we are showing his blurred image beside Lolo Jose, until he decides it is time to come forward.

Deaf children prone to sexual abuse, says NGO

This is a repost from Abs-cbn News website.

CEBU CITY—A nongovernmental organization working to prevent sexual abuse among Deaf children has recorded six cases of rape in June, the highest incidence on a per-month basis since it started documenting the problem last year.

But catching the perpetrators and filing cases against them in court is difficult because law enforcers and prosecutors could not communicate with victims, some of whom are unaware that what happened to them was rape.

The Cebu-based Gualandi Volunteer Service Program (GVSP) has been documenting and assisting in the filing of cases related to the sexual abuse of Deaf children as part of “Break the Silence” (BTS), a project the group launched in January 2011 after it discovered high instances of sexual abuse among people with hearing disabilities.

Of the six rape cases reported in June, suspects in only three cases have been charged in court, said GVSP program manager John Paul Maunes.

Since the launching of BTS, GVSP has intervened in at least 20 cases of sexual abuse against the Deaf, with 10 cases already filed in court.

Maunes said rape was the most common abuse among female victims and sexual advances by gays among male victims.

GVSP has adopted the vision of a “Deaf-inclusive Filipino society” through the volunteering program of the Gualandi Mission for the Deaf. It is part of the BTS network started by the Stairway Foundation that advocates children’s rights.

A nationwide survey by the Philippine Deaf Resource Center (PDRC) in 2005 found that 65 to 70 percent of Deaf boys and girls are being molested. Of the 60 Deaf respondents in Manila and Cebu, one of three women has been raped.

Maunes said, however, the number of Deaf persons being abused could be higher than what the study pointed out. He said most of the victims did not know that they were already being abused until family members discovered the incidents.

One victim, for example, did not know she had been raped until she complained of stomachache and the doctor found out that she was six months pregnant.

GVSP, which has held sexual assault prevention seminars in Central Visayas, also found that many Deaf individuals would only realize that they had been sexually violated when they attended the seminar.

In one seminar, a Deaf boy told Maunes that he did not know that the act of a gay man who paid to fondle his (the child’s) sex organ already constituted sexual abuse.

In the case of rape victims, majority of them were never educated and cannot communicate using the standard sign languages taught in schools for the Deaf, Maunes said. Most of them could not even relate what happened and do not know how to affix their signatures on complaint sheets.

Before the GVSP project started, most of the sexual abuse cases against the Deaf were not addressed or ended up in settlement because government lacks experts to handle the cases, including police investigators who can communicate with the victims or families lost interest in pursuing the case, Maunes said.

Cebu is a case in point. SPO1 Bell Felisan of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) children’s welfare desk admitted that they really have a hard time investigating if one of the parties involved is deaf. She cited one case where both the victim and the alleged perpetrator were both deaf, but no one among the police knew sign language.

This is also one of the issues raised by the PDRC study. The others are:

  1. When the Deaf is arrested and there is no interpreter, the Deaf does not know why he is being arrested or what he is being accused of.
  2. No interpreter is provided for the Deaf who is accused and imprisoned while the case is pending.
  3. Deaf girls who are raped, and their parents, decide not to file the case but just settle amicably (accept money or payment). This happens mostly in preliminary investigations when there is no interpreter.
  4. The Deaf is made to sign affidavits drawn up by the police. Affidavits are usually written in either Filipino, Bisaya or in English, and the Deaf don’t understand what is written. Most of the time there is no interpreter to explain the affidavit to the Deaf.
  5. Deaf victims have interpreters who cannot sign well or cannot sign at all. Some interpreters do not possess adequate skills to interpret for a court hearing.
  6. Both Hearing and Deaf interpreters grapple with the legal jargon.
  7. Male interpreters harass deaf rape victims. Some interpreters intimidate female offended parties during the court hearing.
  8. Inappropriate appointment of male interpreters for female victims of rape and sexual violence.
  9. Many deaf complainants and accused are poor and uneducated. There is a need for Deaf relay interpreters and a hearing interpreter, for unschooled or linguistically-isolated deaf parties.
  10. Because the courts (judge, lawyers) do not know about Supreme Court Memorandum Order 59-2004 and the Office of the Court Administrator Circular No. 104-2007, the court asks the deaf to look for, and pay for, their own interpreter.

The Supreme Court memorandum authorizes the Court Administrator to act on requests of trial court judges to hire the services of sign language interpreters in cases where they are needed. The court is mandated to pay for the interpreters.

The memorandum from the Office of the Court Administrator lays down the guidelines to be followed on the payment of the services of a hired sign language interpreter.

For their part, Felisan said police officers have started training in sign language.

Maunes said social and cultural factors contribute to why most Deaf people do not know that they are already being sexually accosted. He said family members usually do not pay serious attention to problems brought by a Deaf member because of the latter’s disability.

Because they were mostly neglected, the Deaf could not tell that sexual abuses are already being committed against them, he said.
In rural areas, families presume Deaf members could not be productive in society and would not prioritize their education, Maunes added.

Fr. Peter Miles Sollesta, GVSP president, said there are people who take advantage of the disabilities of others, which is why they are advocating training the Deaf on how to protect themselves.

Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Bill Tweddell said in a speech before Deaf students from different schools in Cebu on July 3 that GVSP’s project practically gives voice to the Deaf. The Australian government is supporting the project.

(This story is part of Reporting on Persons With Disability, a project of VERA Files in partnership with The Asia Foundation and AusAid. VERA Files is put out by senior journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for true.)

This Cebuano is on a mission to create a better future for deaf Pinoys

This is a repost from loqal.ph website written by Anna Valmero featuring my interpreter-colleague who is doing awesome job in in helping Filipino deaf down south of Manila, JP Ecarma Maunes. Enjoy! 🙂

JP Ecarma Maunes
CEBU CITY, CEBU—For John Paul Ecarme Maunes, deafness is not a disability in itself. More often than not, it is society’s limited understanding that deaf people actually can communicate and listen —visually, that is.

A decade ago when he was in high school, John Paul, or JP, was diagnosed with a brain condition making him disabled due to psychological trauma. It took the help of a deaf person named Peter Paul to make JP realize to get back on his feet again and make the most of life.

“He showed me that being deaf is not a hindrance to communicate and live life fully. He was mimicking how to play the guitar, the drums or even signaling that he would call me at home if ever I felt down,” JP says.

“He (Peter Paul) was able to make me realize that I can overcome my illness; if he can live life happily despite being a deaf mute, why can’t I?”

Drawing inspiration from Peter Paul’s joy for life, JP got well from his disease and started learning sign language and immersed himself in the “visual world” of the deaf community.

“There’s more good things about deafness than just being deaf—the person itself, their capabilities, and even the unique community. When you get into their community, deaf persons are actually talking with their hands and are listening with their eyes—looking at your hand signals and your facial expressions.”

Only a few people take the time and chance to understand and listen to our deaf brothers using sign language. Among the favorite signs that he learned from Peter Paul was the “I love you” sign, which speaks the universal language of love across nations, and the sign of development depicted by interlacing fingers of both hands raised above the chest.

Spending most of his high school life learning hand signals and communicating with a deaf community in the village of Banilad, JP and eight other friends eventually co-founded nonprofit group Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme Inc.

“According to the deaf, the problem is not about their hearing or their inability to do so, it is the hearing world that doesn’t listen to them. When we spend a minute of our time to listen to what we are saying, we can accommodate them and understand their problems so we can help them,” he says.

Deafness does not affect the intellect of the person but the language barrier is a big hindrance to tap the person’s talents and achieve their full potential, JP explains.

Basic education in the country, for example, is only tailored for normal learners so deaf kids have a hard time keeping up with their classmates, particularly in subjects that require speaking skills.

The lack of deaf curriculum in public schools is also a reason why most families decide against sending their deaf kids to school in the belief that they cannot keep up with the learning anyway. “That is just sad because you will see how the deaf persons have to struggle even with communication with their family,” JP says.

To this end, Gualandi is working with the Department of Education for drafting a K+12 deaf curriculum that can be adopted in schools. JP hopes for long-term training to implement the curriculum and to equip the teachers with better skills when teaching deaf and deaf-mute students.

Families and even younger deaf kids, he says, are taking inspiration from graduate deaf professionals who overcame their disability to succeed. Most kids in the community where Gualandi works are now taking up education courses in college so they can teach deaf students and improve the quality of education for deaf students.

This still remains a challenge, though, because of the lack of appropriate “skills matrix” for measuring the communication skills of deaf applicants for licensure exams at the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC).

Most deaf teacher applicants would Filipino and Social Studies, which are mostly taught in the Filipino language – proof of the need to revisit the education system for deaf mute individuals, says JP. In this connection, a World Census report said that 90 percent of deaf individuals lack a regular job due to their condition.

Says JP: “Based on current PRC rules, sign language is related and grouped with written language. That should not be the case because sign language is a very visual language—we draw pictures in the air.”
Educating the deaf and empowering them to express themselves is a way of emancipating them and protecting them from crimes and abuse.

A study conducted by the Philippine Deaf Resource Center revealed that one in three deaf kids are abused at home by their relatives or friends. The inability to speak up and communicate what happened to them already marginalizes them from getting justice and opens them up for future abuses, says JP.

The group is currently rehabilitating some of the cases discovered during community visits under a project towards creating a Deaf Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Network in the Philippines.

Another project that the advocacy group is organizing is the “Fully Abled Nation” that aims to help persons with disabilities, particularly deaf people to register and cast their vote in the 2013 midterm elections.

For JP and other volunteers like him who advocate for a better future of deaf and other marginalized individuals, there is a lot more to be done as people still overlook someone’s potential just because he or she is deaf.

“I hope to change that one day and to make more people appreciate our deaf brothers without prejudice and to see them see the person beyond the disability,” he said.

View the original article here.