42 new FSL signs created so Deaf can participate in climate change discourse

Highlights of the Filipino Sign Language para sa Pagbabago ng Klima, Talakayan para sa Inklusibong Kinabukasan now available online
June 25, 2024
OML Center joins inaugural Stanford Sustainability Summit
July 9, 2024
Show all

42 new FSL signs created so Deaf can participate in climate change discourse

Ms. Diana Vizmanos, Work Program 1B Manager, teaching participants how to sign some climate change concepts during the forum, "Filipino Sign Language para sa Pagbabago ng Klima, Talakayan para sa Inklusibong Kinabukasan".

How would we be talking about climate change if we didn’t have the language for concepts like “global warming”, “carbon footprint”, and “greenhouse effect”? What if we didn’t know what climate change was at all? 

Now think about the Deaf, which is one of the most vulnerable sectors in Philippine society. Theirs is a 3-dimensional visual language, which has for a long time suffered from the lack of signs to convey climate concepts. Without these signs, they are prevented from understanding climate change, and participating in conversations about it. What’s more, this puts them in danger should disasters related to climate change strike, as early warning systems and available information are often targeted towards the generally hearing population. 

To address this gap, the Oscar M. Lopez Center, through its project “Climate Resilience of the Deaf: Signs for Inclusive Governance and Development” or Project SIGND, has developed 42 new Filipino Sign Language (FSL) signs that convey climate change-related concepts. 

Composed of Deaf and hearing staff alike, Project SIGND began the two-year process of lexicon development by identifying important terminology related to environmental phenomena and climate change; conducting a review of current literature; consulting experts in linguistics and climate science; analyzing the communicative situation of the Deaf community by collecting language samples of sign language discourse related to climate change concepts, which they presented through pictures. They collected this sign language vocabulary from various parts of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. 

In the field, project researchers collected over 6,000 signs from which 1,039 signs have the potential to represent 26 climate change concepts. All of these signs will be kept in a sign bank, which would soon be available on an online data portal for the public to see, particularly for academics who may wish to do further research on FSL. 

But there were also climate concepts with no  signs existing in the Deaf community. For these, the all-Deaf FSL Researchers of the team developed signs with the guidance of linguistic and climate science experts. Once completed, both the new signs and the signs collected from the field were presented to ten panelists who were Deaf leaders from various organizations and regions across the country.

Over four days, the panelists evaluated the signs based on five criteria:

  1. Whether the sign followed FSL structure and FSL signing rules;
  2. Whether the sign was clear enough to illustrate the concept;
  3. Whether the sign visually represented the concept; 
  4. Whether the sign accurately represented the concept; and
  5. Whether the sign was unique and wouldn’t be mistaken for existing signs.

As an interesting development of the evaluation process, when some signs didn’t pass the evaluation, it was the panelists who developed, debated, and agreed on a new sign for those climate change-related concepts. 

Aside from the 42 new FSL signs, the panelists also reviewed 193 FSL signs found in the field. All together, the signs can represent at least 26 climate change concepts.

“Ecosystem”, “climate change adaptation”, “carbon sequestration,” “nature-based solution”, and “sustainable development” are just some of the concepts that now have FSL signs.

One of the panelists was asked if she had been involved in creating signs about climate change before, and the panelist, who hails from Mindanao, said, “In Muslim communities, signs for Islamic concepts like ‘Ramadan’ have no signs either, so I try to explain the terms to the Deaf community in relation to their culture. But when it comes to climate change, I’ve never been involved in creating signs for those. That’s why I’m eager to know more and to be involved in that process. So this has helped me gain more knowledge, as well.”

Asked about the process behind creating new signs, another panelist, this time from Luzon, said, “We want to come up with unique signs because we’re taking Deaf children into consideration. How can we create signs that they will understand? Also, in my experience, scientific terms are very technical. We resort to fingerspelling all the time, which is tiring for us.”

Another panelist from Visayas made it clear just how important having FSL signs for climate change-related concepts was. 

“We are sometimes affected by storms and floods. Once during a typhoon, a Deaf person was killed in our neighboring province. The person was asleep indoors when a tree fell on their house. The other family members survived but the Deaf person didn’t because s/he was asleep and didn’t hear what was happening.”

The development of FSL signs is just the first step in teaching the Deaf about climate change, as well as ensuring that they are able to adapt to and keep safe from the realities of climate change. No longer will they be neglected nor be the last to be informed during emergencies. Rather than victims of disasters and beneficiaries of assistance, the Deaf are empowered to become agents of climate action.