not that asl

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Captain America at Disneyland signing with a deaf guest.

This is so important!

So Guillermo’s trailer for “the shape of water” came out and i havent seen one post yet talk about how the main character is actually mute and communicates using ASL!!!! I mean thats huge. I mean not only is this such a neat spin on the little mermaid being mute but shes a disabled MAIN CHARACTER and the movie isnt some drama about her disability rather its a fantasy love story and her disability is merely a part of her character. This-this is just huge. Like they could have had her using pen and paper the whole film or something but no. She uses ASL. Im just, for a lack of a better phrase, speechless

I’m no expert—I’m hearing and my understanding of American Sign Language is extremely limited—so please feel free to correct/add on to this! But I was just really struck by (and loved!) Elisa’s “F U” to Strickland in the above scene, which was featured at the end of the newly-released Red Band trailer for The Shape of Water.

Here, Elisa is literally signing “F” and “U” from the ASL alphabet, but what makes this so striking is that, by doing so, she’s not exactly speaking ASL—she’s fingerspelling English. 

ASL is a completely separate language from spoken/written English, and fingerspelling is pretty much only used if there are no ASL equivalents for what needs to be conveyed, such as in the case of names. (In fact, when I was learning ASL, my teacher waited a while before teaching us the alphabet because she didn’t want us fingerspelling English instead of actually trying to sign!)

So the fact that Elisa uses fingerspelling here, when there are other ways in ASL to convey the idea of “fuck you,” says a lot. It says even more when you consider how she’s fingerspelling, since her fingerspelling here is not how a deaf person/someone who speaks ASL would typically fingerspell. 

‘Cause fingerspelling? It’s fast. Extremely fast. Each letter flows smoothly into the next. When you fingerspell, it should be an incredibly fluid motion.

But here? That’s 110% not the case. Elisa is slow and measured. She holds out each letter nice and long. It’s the kinda way you’d fingerspell to someone learning ASL—and actually, my teacher would say to not even do that. If you slow down so much for them all the time, they’ll never be able to keep up with real ASL!

So, this scene? This scene with Elisa fingerspelling something that doesn’t need to be fingerspelled, in an incredible, deliberate, slower-than-college-WiFi pace? Well, Elisa is doing more than just dissing Strickland—she’s absolutely taunting him. She’s saying, “I’m speaking your language. I dare you to understand me.”

And she knows that he won’t. She’s speaking crystal clearly, no stuttering, no hesitance, no nothing, and Strickland can’t even be damned to attempt the basic ASL alphabet because he would never, ever try to understand anything different from him.

And Elisa knows this and completely, totally rubs it in his bigoted face.

ASL is a language

American Sign Language and other signed languages are languages. It’s important to respect them as languages.

ASL is not English. It is a completely different language. Similarly, signed languages aren’t all the same. British Sign Language is completely different from ASL.

Signs are not universal, any more than spoken words are universal. The meaning of a sign isn’t always obvious just by watching; many signs are completely arbitrary.

Sign is not pantomime, and it’s not ad hoc gesture. It’s also not like symbolic gestures that are sometimes made up to accompany kids songs either. It’s a language, with all the complexities of language. The difference is important, and it needs to be respected. 

In order to know what signs mean, you have to learn them. (Just like in order to know what spoken words mean, you have to learn them.)

ASL is not just gestures, any more than spoken languages are just sounds. ASL has grammar, vocabulary, and culture. It’s important to respect this and not erase it.  

How to Deaf Culture

I’m about to go attend a deaf event, so I decided to write this quick little list! A lot of my followers don’t know any ASL or even what ASL is (American Sign Language) , so here’s a guide for if you’re ever around Deaf people and how to respect them!


  •  DO NOT use the term “hearing impaired”. Good willed people like to use it for political correctness, but to the Deaf Community, it’s offensive because they are proud to be Deaf. They embrace their deafness and the lifestyle that comes with it.
  • TAP, don’t YELL. Yes, unbelievable, I know. They’re deaf. So yelling in their faces won’t help you or them one bit. Besides that, waving obnoxiously to get a deaf persons’ attention is also rude. Simply give a little tap on the shoulder to alert them, unless you’re facing their front! If coming up from behind, give a little tap! If not, a small wave will be fine.
  • ASL is not a direct translation of English. It is its’ own language, something like Korean or Mandarin or French and so forth. ASL has its own grammar structure and rules, so signing direct English is technically incorrect. If you accidently sign in PSE (pigeon-signed-english) which is direct translation, whoever you are signing with will most likely remind you/correct you to sign in the technical structure.
  • ASL is not universal. There is no count of how many signed languages there are, just like how it’s difficult to get an accurate number of spoken languages! The point is, there is British Sign Language, German Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language, and so on and so forth. For Deaf who go overseas frequently or attend international meetings, there is an improvised form of sign language, but not so much that it is a learned sign language.
  • If using an interpreter, talk directly to the deaf person. Facing the interpreter is like saying that the deaf person is not there, which is extremely rude. The interpreter will catch on and interpret even if you’re not facing them, that’s their job.
  • Breaking eye contact is rude. In the hearing world, eye contact isn’t as important because we can look at one thing but still listen to the speaker. In the deaf world, eye contact must be made while conversing to show respect.
  • “S…L…O…W…L…Y” is a no.  Many deaf persons can read lips. Does that mean you should mouth every syllable of a word at a snails’ pace when talking to a deaf person? No. It’s like having the same done to you. Also, though it may be done with good intentions, it often comes off as stuck-up/having the higher power. Speak normally.
  • Don’t be scared! The Deaf Community loves to sign and help students learning ASL. If you have basic knowledge of it, then approach them politely and introduce yourself! Especially if at a deaf event, Deaf are more than happy to warmly greet you and sign. There’s no need to hold back! Just remember that Deaf Culture is different from Hearing.


I encourage you to learn ASL/your countrys’ sign language if you’re curious! Learn from classes, because online diagrams will not give you the correct forms. Sign language is a beautiful form of communication , along with the people in the community! Remember, every culture has its differences, and Deaf Culture is no exception!