Friday, September 30, 2011

Signing to Cee-Lo Green

I recently came across this post on Renaissance Cafe of a student of American Sign Language signing the lyrics to Cee-Lo Green's elegant love ballad entitled "F**k you". While not exactly the most child-friendly lyrics ever written (although I must admit the tune is catchy), I was intrigued and hit play on the video, only to see some language-learning lessons jumping out at me.

The (lyrically) NSFW video, together with a few language-learning lessons, after the jump.

And here's another one, with the signing differing in some places but a bit easier to see I think:

Lesson 1: You probably already know at least a handful of things in your target language.

Probably all of us know at least a couple of the obvious ones, e.g., pointing the person you're speaking to means "you", pointing at yourself means "me", etc.

For me, though, the more interesting ASL word that I already knew was the song's namesake phrase. To explain how I knew that one already, please allow me to turn to the Honorable Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and fellow Italian-American. From the Boston Herald, via The Daily Kos:

Smith was working as a freelance photographer for the Boston archdiocese's weekly newspaper at a special mass for lawyers Sunday when a Herald reporter asked the justice how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship.

"The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, 'To my critics, I say, 'Vaffanculo,''" punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.

And just what do you think "vaffanculo" means in Italian? You guessed it: "fuck you". (Here are some pics of Scalia during the infamous "flick".) I'm pretty sure quite a few Italian-Americans would be familiar with this gesture, and apparently it's the same word in ASL.

So Italian hand gestures and American Sign Language clearly share one cognate.

Lesson 2: Dirty mind = better memory.

You might recall that science seems to have discovered that we're good at remembering dirty things. That would apply to the example above, but go back and look again what they sign when the lyrics say "Ain't that some shit?" See that last bit there? What do you think that sign might be imitating?

Yeah. Ew. But I'll bet you're more likely to remember that now.

Lesson 3: Music helps recall.

As laid out in this guest post, music can be helpful in learning languages. It might not seem obvious with signing that music would be helpful, until you realize that signing to music basically becomes dancing. After watching those videos a couple times, I'm already starting to recall certain sequences of the signing, much in the same way I can easily recall Michael Jackson's shoulder moving and side stepping in Thriller.

Or maybe it was Philipino prisoners. These guys could totally learn to sign.

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