Language & Communication7th May 2015

Media Personality Gets It Oh So Wrong When Commenting on Simple Auslan Communication

Mis-reading Australian Sign Language triggers offensive and ignorant derision

by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

If ever we needed a timely reminder about the importance of two-way communication, the power of sign language and the consequence that a lack of knowledge and understanding can bring, we got it on a Friday evening during a Super 14 rugby match between the Brumbies and the Highlanders on the 24th April. 

David Pocock is one of the best and most potent flankers in world rugby. A previous Australian Captain, Pocock was making a return to the game following two knee construction operations. Playing an outstanding game on that Friday evening, he was being supported in the stands by a Deaf friend. Also watching the game, was media personality and columnist Miranda Devine, armed with social media and seemingly ready to tweet her opinion on the game. Scoring a try for his Brumbies team, Pocock raised both hands to head height and jiggled his hands in celebration whilst looking into the stands.

Interpreting his celebration, Devine quickly turned to Twitter and wrote to her thirty five thousand followers, "Did Pocock actually do jazz hands when he celebrated a try?!!! What a tosser!" Now some might question anyone wanting to use such offensive language about a player's celebration at scoring a try, but Devine was to learn after the match that she made a classic mistake, interpreting his signed communication incorrectly.

Learning of the offensive tweet after the game, Pocock moved quickly to let Devine know that her interpretation of his celebration was completely wrong and that he was actually using sign language to his Deaf friend. In his reply Pocock wrote, "It was actually Auslan/sign language for clapping. I have a friend who's first language is Auslan so it was for her."

At least recognising her mis-judgement, Devine, who is well known for taking a firm and passionate stance on a host of issues, responded with an apology, an apology that Pocock himself accepted quickly and gracefully. The problem of course, is that whilst the 'tosser' comment was directed specifically at Pocock, the description of the sign for clapping as 'jazz hands' angered swathes of Auslan users and supporters. With 1.1 million re-tweets and 1.8 million people favouriting Pocock's tweet to Devine with the explanation of his signed celebration, it is little wonder that sign langauge users around the world have also expressed their opinion, through Twitter and other social media.

Playing down her offensive tweet since and wanting to put the whole incident to bed quickly, Devine perhaps misunderstands the extent to which her actions highlight a much bigger problem and the long standing issue she has now become embroiled in.

The saddest part of the whole incident, is that with knowledge and understanding, David Pocock's consideration and thoughtfulness for his Deaf friend could have been used to promote Auslan, sign language and Deaf culture. With better knowledge and understanding, Pocock could have been applauded not vilified by Devine, and whilst her actions have served to highlight this issue, it has triggered a battle ground of opinion, rather than just the good news story this should have been.

Article by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

posted in Community / Language & Communication

7th May 2015