Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sign Language/Linguistics Post: "Sign Language Isn’t Just for Babies" / "Iran officials stop deaf girls’ sign language song, say it resembles dancing" / "How language shape the way we think"

One of those times when a bunch of sources come at me the same time... First, an opinion piece posted on the New York Times, 5/23/18. I am posting the whole text as it is both insightful in its observations and surprising when comparing the American Deaf situation with the Deaf situation in Japan:

Sign Language Isn’t Just for Babies

By Rachel Kolb

Image and caption from New York Times, 5/23/18. 

Part of me feels excited whenever hearing acquaintances tell me they’re teaching their infant some baby sign language. (I’m deaf, so I inevitably become a magnet for these conversations.) These parents rave: “It’s so fun and so visual! I can see what my baby is trying to say to me!”

“That’s great,” I say, and tell them to keep it up.

Baby sign language borrows some signs — like “milk,” “more,” “all done,” “mommy” and “daddy” — from American Sign Language in order to enable hearing parents to achieve some basic sign- and gesture-based communication with their infants before they are capable of speech. In my view, the more people who sign in this world, the better. And I defy you to suppress a smile when a baby signs “more” by bouncing her chubby little fingertips together.

But part of me also objects when baby signs are marketed in a vacuum, isolated from their origins in the full, rich American Sign Language that I know. The increasingly mainstream trend — driven by parenting books and how-to videos — is largely being pushed by hearing people, for the benefit of hearing children. It seems like a major missed opportunity to take advantage of the contributions that deaf people — the primary users (and originators) of signed languages — can offer to the world.

Leading proponents of baby signing say that it’s a way for parents to develop stronger bonds with their babies, and that it has benefits for language development and cognition, though the evidence for this among hearing children is weak. Signing is also clearly valuable for children whose brains might be better suited to visual rather than verbal communication: not only deaf children, but also those with autism and other forms of cognitive difference.

The baby sign language phenomenon connects to what culturally deaf people celebrate as “Deaf Gain:” the notion that all of humanity can gain significant benefits and insights from Deaf visual-spatial contributions to the world, including A.S.L. and all its rich linguistic possibilities. Deaf friends I talk with applaud hearing parents for learning some signs with their children, and express hope that, someday, more people will use a signed language on an everyday basis, making communication easier for all of us.

But the developers and users of baby sign language don’t necessarily see A.S.L. fluency as a goal. Many of the books and websites actually assure parents that they don’t need to learn full A.S.L., and also that using baby signs won’t impede a child’s spoken language acquisition.

Most striking for me, when I browsed top-hitting baby sign videos on YouTube, I found several that featured stretches of verbal speaking and singalong, without any captions. I was watching visual fragments of my own language, framed by spoken English, which excludes me. I felt disjointed, oddly erased.

Finally, there is one more reason I feel ambivalent when my hearing acquaintances tell me they are using baby signs with their children. Often, I notice that these acquaintances are people who have never attempted to use any sign language with me — even though I am deaf, even though I am the one person they know who could most benefit from visual communication. This omission strikes me as a huge loss, even a huge injustice.

When we see sign language as only a fad, a trend or merely as “so beautiful,” and when we separate it from the context of the actual deaf people who use it to communicate, we lose sight of the real stakes of language. Language welcomes, but it also excludes.

For decades, medical and educational professionals have discouraged hearing parents from signing with their deaf children. My own parents were told not to sign with me when I was a baby — and then proceeded to disregard that advice, for which I am exceedingly grateful. Some of these professionals believe that speech is superior and signing is only a crutch for spoken language acquisition, despite the fact that A.S.L. has been recognized as a full language since the 1960s.

The consequences of this philosophy of enforced speech for deaf education, literacy and language development have been disastrous: It has meant that many deaf children never acquire a fluent native language that will enable them to reach their potential. This is starting to change, but most deaf children still do not receive full A.S.L. exposure in their early years, which are critical for language acquisition.

The fundamental injustice of the baby sign-language trend is that our culture touts the benefits of signing for hearing children, but disregards A.S.L. for the deaf children who need it the most.

We need to provide more access to signed language for the people who really need it. As a path toward mainstream acceptance why not give fluent deaf users of A.S.L. more leadership and visibility to usher in the widespread use of their language? (The Baby Einstein signing videos, which star the deaf actress Marlee Matlin, are a good model.) Families who find themselves interested in baby signs may be intrigued by the contributions of deaf storytellers, like Leala Holcomb and her partners at Hands Land or Sheena McFeely and Manny Johnson of ASL Nook, who have put together children’s tales and visual nursery rhymes in A.S.L. And why not invite more people to use A.S.L. throughout their lives?

Sign language has untapped potential for enabling richer, more enhanced communication for everyone — but only if we move past framing it as “baby talk.”


Rachel Kolb's website:

Next, this one on the Rudaw website, 5/27/18...

Iran officials stop deaf girls’ sign language song, say it resembles dancing

Image borrowed from Rudaw, 5/27/18.

Iranian officials have prevented a group of deaf girls from performing a song in sign language because their body movements resemble dancing, which is outlawed in public spaces in the Islamic Republic.

The performance, about Imam Reza, the 8th Imam of Shia people, was organized for Ramadan month. The group performed twice on Friday at the Grand Mosalla of Tehran before officials asked them to stop.

“Unfortunately those who do not understand disabled people came and easily cancelled the performance,” the group’s director said, according to BBC Persian.

There are around 1.5 million people with disabilities in Iran, 225,000 of them suffering some degree of deafness, Iran’s deputy health director told MEHR News agency last year.

Deafness is a hidden disability. Each government institution in Iran is mandated to hire at least one employee who knows sing language in order to assist deaf visitors.

Jabbar Baghcheban established Iran’s first schools for the deaf in the 1920s. His legacy is remembered during the final week of September, international Deaf Awareness Week.


To be honest, when watching the video of the performance (which can be viewed at the above source site), it does appear to be a sign language dance rather than conversational sign. Signed performances of songs usually tend to be done following the grammar and word order of the spoken language rather than natural sign (although there are a growing number of exceptions to this available on YouTube and other sources). Still, I have a problem with any laws outlawing dance. Recall that Japan had a law against late night dancing until 2015...

And finally this insightful TED Talk from Lera Boroditsky, November, 2017:

How language shapes the way we think


Very interesting and slick presentation. But I have two problems with it. 1) Why no reference to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which is basically what the presentation is about? 2) Why limit the notion of language to spoken languages? The same examples she gives works with sign languages as well. Still, a lot of good stuff. Enjoy linguistics! Enjoy sign languages!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Neighborhood Flowers (shot w/ a new camera allowing for immediate reciprocity)

Last year an elderly woman moved into the old one-room apartments near our house. Her husband had just passed away and she had to move to a cheaper place. This is an all too common situation in Japan these days where elderly people have to live alone on a limited government paid pension. But she is very social and seems to get on well with all of the neighbors. She can often be seen outside her apartment tending to her flowers. She is very good at this and her efforts bring some beauty to an otherwise drab apartment building. I wanted to take a photo of her with her flowers but she was too shy. But she appreciated the attention.

I took this photo with a new camera I recently purchased - a Fujifilm Instax SQ10 - it is like a Polaroid camera of old where you can print out the photo on the camera immediately. It is also a descent digital camera. So you can take a shot, have a digital file saved on a mini SD card and if you like it print it out. (It is a bit pricey compared to other models and the film is expensive.) I find it works well as a simple field camera - not too heavy or bulky. And you can print out photos of people you take in the course of research as an immediate form of thanks and reciprocity. The usual disclaimer holds - this is not a product endorsement. Rather it is a handy addition to my fieldwork/research gear. And it made a nice old lady happy...

Monday, May 21, 2018

Update: "Driver of construction vehicle that hit and killed 11-year-old girl in Feb had epilepsy"

From Japan Today, 5/21/18.

The driver of a construction vehicle that rammed into pupils and teachers of a school for children with impaired hearing in Osaka on Feb 1, killing an 11-year-old girl and injuring four others, suffered from epilepsy, prosecutors revealed on Saturday.

Police believe the driver of the wheel loader, Takuya Sano, 35, probably suffered an epileptic attack just before the accident, Sankei Shimbun reported. After his arrest, Sano told police he mistakenly pressed the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal when he was trying to stop the vehicle as the traffic light turned red. He hit Ayaka Ide, and two other pupils of the same age, as well as two female teachers as the five were waiting for a traffic signal near the school's gate in Ikuno Ward.

The accident took place in a residential area about 400 meters south of JR Tsuruhashi Station. Road construction work was being carried out near the site.

Sano admitted that he had been prescribed medication for epilepsy but could not remember if he had taken his medication that day. Police also said that Sano had been in a traffic accident once before while operating a vehicle.

Prosecutors ordered a three-month medical and psychiatric examination of Sano, that ended on May 16.

Drivers who cause fatal accidents due to medical conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia have been subject to tougher penalties since the Road Traffic Law was revised in 2013.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

"‘The Shoot Must Go On’: Masayoshi Sukita captures some of rock music’s most iconic figures"

From The Japan Times, 5/17/18.

Even if you don’t recognize the name, you probably know his shots. Photographer Masayoshi Sukita has captured images of rock gods and movie stars that deserve that most overused of epithets: iconic.

There’s Marc Bolan, face creased in orgasmic bliss and hair billowing behind him as he lunges towards the camera; a lipstick-smeared Masatoshi Nagase and Youki Kudoh, slumped against a hotel bed, on the set of Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train”; the members of Yellow Magic Orchestra, sharing a table with a pair of mannequins on the cover of “Solid State Survivors.”

And then there’s David Bowie: lots and lots of Bowie. Sukita first captured the musician in London in 1972, at the peak of his Ziggy Stardust fame, and continued to photograph him for the next 35 years. His monochrome portrait on the cover of the 1977 “Heroes” album proved so indelible that Bowie was still referencing it decades later, even recreating the pose on Instagram, dressed as a member of Daft Punk.

In an introduction to Sukita’s 2011 collection, “Speed of Life,” Bowie wrote: “Whenever he’s asked me to do a session I conjure up in my mind’s eye the sweet, creative and big-hearted man who has always made these potentially tedious affairs so relaxed and painless. May he click into eternity.”

After nearly 60 years in the business, “eternity” is starting to sound just about right. But though Sukita has worked with some massive stars, and become a major name in his own right, he says he still prefers to meet his subjects as equals.


Sukita has had plenty of opportunity to reflect on his life’s work recently. The past few years have seen a flurry of retrospective shows, not just in Japan but also in France, Italy, Australia and the United Kingdom. Now the photographer, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this month, is the subject of a feature-length documentary.

Directed by music industry veteran Hiromi Aihara, “Sukita: The Shoot Must Go On” follows its amiable subject as he exhibits his Bowie shots in the U.S. for the first time, and catches up with a host of old acquaintances, ranging from Japanese music royalty (Tomoyasu Hotei, the members of YMO) to British fashion designer Paul Smith.

There are additional interviews with an assorted cast of figures from throughout his career, including Nagase, Jarmusch and fashion stylist Yacco Takahashi.

It’s not just a nostalgia fest, either: Sukita is also seen working in the studio with present-day guitar hero Miyavi, though their meeting didn’t go quite as planned. After waking up with a fever on the day of the shoot, the photographer had to spend several hours in hospital while his crew anxiously prepared for his arrival. Nevertheless, he proudly recalls that he managed to finish the job on schedule.

Read the whole article:

Sikita movie website:

Friday, May 18, 2018

"Hyoe Yamamoto dives into Japan’s culture of corporate corruption in ‘Samurai and Idiots: The Olympus Affair’"

Image borrowed from

Excerpt from The Japan Times, 5/16/18.

“Samurai and Idiots” revisits a 2011 scandal that rocked camera manufacturer Olympus Corp., when then-newly appointed CEO Michael Woodford blew the whistle on the company’s shady accounting and dalliances with organized crime. Woodford was ousted from his post just two weeks afterward, terminating a 30-year career with the company. Before he left, however, the British businessman had torn the lid off what would become an enormous financial scandal involving one of the country’s most respected and successful names. In the aftermath, the entire board of Olympus resigned and the previous CEO, along with others, were arrested.

“It’s not really my story, it’s a story about modern day corporate Japan,” Woodford says in the film, which is meticulous in showing how a powerful manufacturer could be taken down from the inside.

“The title comes from Michael Woodford’s own words,” Yamamoto tells The Japan Times. “Woodford felt, and I do too, that the two concepts are not all that different. We Japanese hold the samurai as the ultimate ideal but it has become a convenient label more than anything else. It has been slapped onto whatever the Japanese — especially Japanese corporations — want to hide or avoid having to explain.”

The Olympus scandal may feel like history now, but the analysis of Japanese society in “Samurai and Idiots” is still quite relevant, according to Yamamoto.

“Though social networking and the internet have changed some aspects of how Japanese corporations and society think, many things have remained exactly the same,” he says. “Again and again, we’ve seen how people at the top sabotage their organizations and then cover the whole thing up. The Moritomo scandal, for instance, is a classic case in that we can’t really see who’s ultimately responsible. Everything is evaded with a single word: sontaku (loosely translated as ‘following unspoken orders’).

“I find the whole thing bizarre, but at the same time, it’s so Japanese. One of the motives for making ‘Samurai and Idiots’ is to show the Japanese that what is acceptable and even considered a virtue here can seem strange, offensive or illegal to the outside world.”

Read the whole article:

"Samurai and Idiots" webpage:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"HIV stigma needs to be tackled to eliminate disease in Japan"

And so it continues... From Japan Today, 5/16/18:

Despite advances in treatment, the number of newly confirmed cases of HIV in Japan has remained flat for the past decade, a sign that misconceptions about the disease are making progress towards eradication difficult.

"The stigma around HIV is the reason that we can't end it. In many places, people are still afraid of HIV or afraid of people living with HIV. We need to be clear that that idea is old, that is 30 years old," said Owen Ryan, executive director of the International AIDS Society, on a recent visit to Japan.

Ryan, whose group of doctors, nurses and researchers is working to eliminate AIDS, called for more self-testing in Japan, saying, "In Japan, the key is finding (those) who aren't tested." "When people know their HIV status, they tend to go get treatment. So self-testing is important," he stressed.

Japan is the fifth-largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an effort it helped establish. The fund is the largest multi-government funder of HIV programs, more than 4 billion dollars a year, according to Ryan.

In spite of Japan's efforts on the international front, newly infected HIV sufferers at home totaled 1,407 in 2017, slightly lower than the previous year, with a third showing symptoms that indicate they may have progressed to the third stage of the disease, known as AIDS, preliminary data by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare showed. In 2016, the number was 1,440, up from 1,434 in 2015.

The latest data also reported three cases of mother-to-child infections, the first case of multiple infections in three years, prompting the government to call on pregnant mothers to make sure they get health checkups.

In the fight against AIDS, the ministry started a subsidy program from April in some municipal areas in Japan where workers will be able to be tested for HIV for free as part of their health examinations. Public health centers nationwide also offer free, anonymous HIV testing but only do so on weekdays.

In Japan, self-testing is not sufficiently practiced "because people are scared," Ryan said. "In Japan, new infections are (largely) among gay men and so you are already stigmatized because you are gay and people feel like it's a double stigma. I think getting (more people) tested happens by attacking that stigma," he said.

"With a bit more work and more money, Japan really could be one of the first countries to end AIDS," Ryan said.

A public survey conducted in January this year by the Cabinet Office showed that 52 percent of the respondents still believed that AIDS is an "illness that leads to death," although advances in drugs used to treat the disease have allowed HIV patients to live as long as non-sufferers and also have substantially lowered the chance of transmitting the disease to others.

The poll, which drew responses from 1,671 people over 18 years old nationwide, showed 34 percent of them think the "cause (of AIDS) is unknown and untreatable," while 20 percent called it "an illness that only affects specific people."

As for the origins of infection, some respondents were completely misinformed, with 25 percent believing that "mosquitoes were carriers" of the disease, and 17 percent saying it could be transmitted by "light kissing."

Only half of the respondents also knew that anonymous, free testing is offered at public health centers.

Another online survey conducted by HIV Futures Japan Project, an entity comprised of people infected with HIV and researchers of the disease, also showed that those with the disease are tormented by the stigma associated with the disease.

In the poll conducted on some 1,000 people in Japan infected with HIV in 2016 and 2017, about 93 percent said they are "very careful" when they talk to someone about being HIV positive.

More than 85 percent also said that, in general, when people learn they are HIV positive, they deny it, while nearly 63 percent feared losing their jobs if their employers discover they carry the disease.

The survey also found that HIV patients tend to put pressure on themselves, leading some to suffer from deteriorating mental health.

Over 64 percent said that they lie about their condition if HIV comes up in conversation, while nearly 66 percent said they continually try to ensure their HIV positive status is not discovered by people around them.

While acknowledging the difficulties in tackling the issue in an environment like Japan where AIDS is still taboo, Ryan warned that stopping the conversation or failing to educate young people about it only serves to reinforce the stigma.

He cited the cases of eastern Europe and central Asia where new HIV infections rose by 60 percent and AIDS-related deaths in the region increased by 27 percent between 2010 and 2016, while globally, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have actually fallen in the same period.

"It's a great example of, when you stop talking about it, educating about it, it keeps coming back," Ryan said.

UNAIDS, which works closely with the International AIDS Society, aims to eliminate the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

Its ambitious project takes the so-called 90-90-90 approach: ensuring 90 percent of the infected are diagnosed, getting 90 percent of those who are diagnosed on treatment with antiretroviral drugs, and having 90 percent of those infected attain viral suppression.


Previous VAOJ coverage: