HuffPo Covers Fake ASL Music Video

Yesterday, the Huffington Post did a story on a music video that was supposedly done in American Sign Language. The video was done by Mark Nakhla, Greg Faxon And Sam Choi, doing a cover of Kayne West and Jay-Z’s ‘No Church In The Wild’.

Numerous Deaf people, including myself, who are either fluent or native ASL users, upon seeing this video are quite upset. The signing is barely comprehensible to us. It has been described as gibberish and babble. A few ASL signs can be glimpsed in the video, but for the most part, it is utterly incoherent. Mark Nakhla has defended this video by claiming that this video was using ASL glosses and this was an artistic interpretation of the song. He admits he uses some gestures, which is completely different than signs in a signed language. To be irrevocably clear: gestures =! sign. Anyone who would do some basic fact-checking would realize this.

Therefore, this brings up numerous questions. Why did Huffington Post cover a music video that claims to use American Sign Language, but is incomprehensible to fluent and native ASL users? Why didn’t they at least consult with ASL experts to verify that the video does use the language? Why doesn’t Huffington Post cover music videos that are done by Deaf persons, such as Rosa Lee Timm and LankyListman, but only those that are done by hearing people who are extremely poor in using ASL?

And why is it that when we complain about the misrepresentation and exploitation of our language, we’re either ignored or scolded for daring to object?

If an English singer decided to do a song in Spanish or any other language that is spoken with the voice, and they mangled the pronunciation of the foreign words, they would be met with wide-spread criticism, even when given room for ‘artistic interpretation’. And the criticism would be considered as valid and appropriate. Yet this is not the case when it comes to the usage of the Deaf people’s language, American Sign Language.

Why is that?

I can only conclude that there is no sincere respect for signed languages such as American Sign Language, and it is ultimately not considered a real language amongst the mainstream. This is despite decades of scholarly research confirming that indeed, ASL and other signed languages are genuine languages, just like spoken ones.

This is a saddening testimony to how ignored and oppressed the Deaf Community is, in my opinion. Our objections and opinions on issues that concern us, are simply brushed aside as if we do not truly matter.

48 thoughts on “HuffPo Covers Fake ASL Music Video

  1. I did not see the video! But the very best in ASL can be seen on Youtube ewitteborg also Tiffanyhill

    I hope everyone enjoys their video’s

  2. Beautifully said. I completely agree with respecting ASL, especially when big name stars are using it (and were invited precisely because they are big name stars) they should at least do it correctly after much practice.

    Just wondering, though. We see plenty of mangled English (and probably hearing people hear lots of fractured American English as well), and most people apart from miffed editors and educators don’t seem to get upset. Rather, they laugh at people like Charo, Cote de Pablo, Cantinflas and others who purposely mangle English for a living. Every so often we enjoy on Facebook and elsewhere examples of hilarious broken-English signage.

    There’s always going to be similar screw-ups with ASL, so all we can do is sigh, express exasperation, correct it, and laugh off the rest. It’s a miracle that hearing people with no connection to the Deaf community are using it at all. Leverage it for all it’s worth! Take that, all you Alexander Graham Bells and Louise Treadwell Tracys! With luck and enough famous people, it could become a status symbol to know ASL.

  3. Dianrez,

    We do see people (both deaf and hearing) who don’t write or speak English very well. But most of the time, what they’re saying is still somewhat understandable.

    There’s a difference between a badly expressed statement, and a completely incoherent statement.

    And there’s also a difference between deliberately breaking a rule of a language, (such as in poetry) and breaking it so badly to the point where fluent and native users of the language cannot understand you.

    The video done by Mark Nakhla, Greg Faxon And Sam Choi, falls in both of the latter categories. It is just outright incoherent and incomprehensible.

  4. Thoughts:

    1.) Yep, it wasn’t ASL or even close to it…aside from a few hand shapes.

    2.) I understand “artistic liberty”, but don’t agree with them passing it off as ASL.

    3.) The Huff Post…SMH..they should do their homework…the media is lazy these days…

    4.) I cannot hear the video..so I don’t know how good it is..but it appears to me that this video is only getting attention because it is being passed off as “ASL”..it certainly isn’t getting attention for the dancing or the production itself (many other videos out there do the same thing).

    5.) Yup, ASL gets no respect…even if it has linguistically proved to be an actual language. Nonetheless, bad publicity is better than no publicity. Like Dianrez says..it could be cool if ASL became a status thing….at least I could charge more $$$ for teaching it.

  5. you know why. we are deaf, we have to put up with crappy language and make them feel good for “helping”. We must not dare say a word.

  6. Well done, DP. It is very irritating that each time we say something about ASL, there are people (many hearing, few deaf/HoHs) who will quickly attack us as “ASL extremists” or “ASL militants”. It has to stop.

    R-

  7. Hey, Ridor9th, I do agree with DeafEdge’s point that they are not ASL because they are not qualified of their religiousness song. I think Our comment come from here and tell them they are not excellent sign and crapped of unskilled ASL . It appear not it is not ASL to me.

    Their ASL is awfully BARF.

    Margaret

  8. it was illuminating and yet disturbing to witness profound disrespect and paternalism by certain hearing people and non-culturally deaf/hoh toward culturally deaf people. they obviously don’t see the culturally deaf people as equals, talking down to them. it is also disquieting to see a hard of hearing person born into deaf culture behaving this way toward the culturally deaf people.

    after leaving few comments, i had to take a break, so outraged by these despicable comments. these behaviors brought back old memories of how the african americans were treated back by some white people in the 1960′s in the deep south: the talking down, the derision, scolding, and the shaming. these people should be ashamed for treating a linguistic minority like second class citizens. the culturally deaf people and their language are to be treated with dignity and respect.

  9. I just now watched the video. it look like a mixture of dancing, Sign language, gestures, and just expressing themselves by dancing their hands ha! Reminds me of “ice, ice baby” by Keith Wann. btw, their caption is confusing ,too

  10. Wonderfully put! As a Hard of Hearing interpreter, i thoroughly enjoy music that has been interpreted well… and that video on Huff Post was not even intelligible. It is truely sad that this is what is heralded as a wonderful example of language, when in fact it is an atrociously misnomed gestured dance.

  11. Kia, it’s greatly appreciated! Too often we are ignored and not taken seriously when we express our objections/concerns.

    Looking forward to your follow-up post.

    Thank you.

  12. Kia Makarechi: I noticed something alarming, it is apparent that you had instructed the HuffingtonPost editors to block the very same people who exposed Mark Nakhla’s fake ASL video which HuffingtonPost posted on their website — as of now, I, along with the others, am unable to post any comment on any article on that website. Are you all for censorship — all just because some of us exposed the very article that you botched. You owed me and others an apology.

    Ricky Taylor

  13. I dunno about that, Ridor. One of the others can, and I haven’t left a comment on HuffPo lately, except for one on a tech post a while ago. Most likely, my comment is still being held in moderation over there.

    UPDATE: My comment was published over there. So I’m not blocked.

  14. Pingback: Supposed "ASL" Music Video Featured on HuffPost Entertainment | The hearing aid teacher

  15. This reminds me slightly of this video (captioned):
    http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DDPkYCYgHjMU&h=TAQHpKrGy

    There’s a woman in Bulgarian Idol who attempts to sing an American Mariah Carey pop song. She butchers the English lyrics while the judges snicker. What is interesting to me is how she has become an internet sensation–hearing English speakers laugh at her ignorance. Read some of the comments that users have posted. They are not positive. Clearly, when English is mangled hearing people become very upset. It stands in stark contrast to what we’ve experienced recently with the Nakhla/Choi video.

    It makes me sad that the folks at HuffPo have never done an article on, say, the excellent videos produced by D-Pan (Waiting on the World to Change, for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKnF9CCYQPQ) which are clear, ASL, artistically interpreted and Deaf-produced.

  16. Chris, agreed and thanks for sharing that video! I think it illustrates both your and my points well.

    And indeed, there are quite many Deaf who do enjoy music, and do videos translating songs into ASL. Signmark, Sean Forbes, Rosa Lee Timm, and LankyListman are the top ones. HuffPo should’ve taken the opportunity to showcase these artists. There’s no doubt in my mind that hearing people would’ve been utterly fascinated by the fact that we do enjoy music and have artists perform songs :)

    Hopefully in their follow-up article, they’ll take the time to present a nuanced view and clarify some misconceptions about ASL and the Deaf Community.

  17. Another example, perhaps closer to that of misusing ASL signs, is the garbage that one gets when turning on auto captioning on YouTube videos. It almost is understandable, then words go astray and one feels frustrated again and again.

  18. Hi, just wanted to update that we are still going forward with the article and it will be published this week. I’ll post the link here when it’s up. I also want to emphatically state that we don’t block any comments based on the opinions they contain. Only comments which violate our guidelines, which can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/p/frequently-asked-question.html#moderation

    Thanks everyone for continuing to engage with the article and see you soon.

    Kia
    (HuffPost Entertainment Editor)

  19. Kia,

    Thanks for dropping by again and giving us the update. Completely understood about the comments and their guidelines. I have similar rules here on my blog. So, no worries there.

    Diane,

    Yes, your analogy of the screwy auto-captions on YouTube is an excellent one.

  20. Sorry for more delays, but I actually wanted to reach out for some help on this matter. I’ve contacted the National Association of the Deaf, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and a few prominent schools for the deaf, and no one is willing to speak on the record about this video (though I have had some revelatory discussions off record). If someone can provide me with their email address, I’d like to email you about other prominent experts we can reach out to.

    I’ve already interviewed the young man who made the video about his thoughts on the reactions, so we’re really just waiting on an expert from the ASL-speaking community. Thanks again for your patience.

  21. Kia,

    Try contacting these people at ASLized – http://aslized.org/lin-committee/

    They are professional linguists and very familiar with ASL and language issues. I do not have their emails, but ASLized should have their information if you ask them.

    I’m sorry nobody will go on record about this. That’s shameful.

  22. Pingback: Deaf World as Eye See It » Blog Archive » Where are our ASL Defenders?

  23. Rick Taylor did mention his vlog about this, same thing. I do not know where can I post his vlog.. I rather everyone to watch his vlog.

    Margaret

  24. My error English I say I do not know which one the vlog Rick Taylor mentioned on his video. I lost my track in my mind.

    Margaret

  25. I watched the video. The sign language is in another country’s sign language, not American’s sign language. Just a simple misunderstanding is all. Thanks, Huffpost for making room for the DEAF WORLD in your media news/website. :)

  26. Wanda, really? And which sign language is it?

    Ridor, I already put Kia in touch with numerous people, including ASLized and a Gallaudet professor. From what I understand, NAD is also now talking with Kia. So the problem’s been taken care of now.

  27. Wanda, even if it is true, they still called it AMERICAN sign language (ASL) . If they were using another country’s sign language, they should have been clear about that. And if they can’t tell the difference between ASL and other country sign language, it goes to show they have a lot to learn. and not a professional signers. the video is impressive though, just that they need to be clear they are not fluent. HuffPost could consider most ASL music video are usually students practicing their ASL and not always fluent.

  28. Kia, check out Rosa Lee Timm’s work on YouTube. She’s one of the best. http://www.youtube.com/user/rosaleeshow

    That aside, there’s a strong argument in completely disassociating from sound and creating our own music — our own “muzik” in ASL. For too long we’ve depended on English and sound to tell us what music is. I tried my own version of muzik in “Whip My Hands,” inspired by Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair.” http://bit.ly/JIfaoh

  29. I took journalism long time ago. People make honest mistakes. Huffpost made an honest mistake and I have full confidence in Huffpost had no intention to insult Deaf Americans. It’s easier and constructive to write or e mail a publisher of writing material and point out their error and they always respond by admitting their error and they correct their errors in future publications. I commend Huffpost for publishing articles about the DEAF WORLD. It’s not often magazines, televisions, and films highlight the DEAF WORLD to the world. Many times people of the HEARING WORLD prompts us, Deaf people, to point out the professionals of the HEARING WORLD’s lack of Deaf Awareness, an attempt to ‘awaken’ the HEARING WORLD on the spot. Huffpost’s article misinterpreting a foreign sign language for ASL (American Sign Language) is so old and repetitive. U.S.A. is still a young country and already the Deaf Awareness is catching on, compared to the Old World that never gave DEAF/HOH people an equal opportunity since time began. U.S.A. is still a young country and willing and eager to keep on learning, they need our patience to gently guide them back on track. What do you think?

  30. Well, Wanda… The problem with your comment is that the producers of the music video claim it IS American Sign Language, even after heavy criticism and feedback from us ASL speakers.

    I do not think the producers or signers of said video intended to insult the community when they made the video, but when they blew us off and told us that the video was done in ASL glosses, that IS an insult. Nobody would dare dream of telling any other native user, “Oh, this is done in this way. That’s why you don’t understand.”

    Pardon me? That is offensive and goes to show the depth of linguicism and audism against the Deaf ASL community. And HuffPost should have checked with experts in ASL first, before publishing their initial article about this music video. That’s responsible and ethical journalism, after all.

  31. I watched your video. I agree because Deaf people who cannot hear at all and don’t wear hearing aids do enjoy visual performance art and the sound of music are not an absolute necessity. There are other Deaf/HoH people with hearing aids/cochlear implants do enjoy a musical video with the sound of music and are thrilled when sign language in any language are added to the musical video. We hope the captioning in perfect sychronization (spell?) to each vocal word will be added to internet musical videos in the very near future.

  32. Wanda, your views on appreciating the HuffingtonPost to publish few articles about DEAF WORLD sounds like a dog getting excited when one is getting a treat. I think HuffingtonPost is big enough to have a couple of Deaf people working in its company and so far, they have none. And that is pretty much shameful. And if you say that I should be grateful with HuffingtonPost for whatever they put on my plate, don’t do that or I’ll … !

    R-

  33. Also, one more quick note: the NAD let me know that they had not heard of my initial phone call, which I believe. As soon as we were in touch over email, the NAD was extremely quick and thorough in their responses to our inquiries.

  34. I noticed this on the last “ASL Music Video” that the Huffington Post posted. I emailed the writer of the piece and told him about Rosa Lee Timm and Russell Harvard and provided links to both of their videos. I also tried to explain a little bit how a lot of videos on YouTube claim “ASL” when really it’s signed English or gestures. I never heard back from them, and apparently, they didn’t get the message accurately. This is unfortunate and disappointing.

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