Revising Korean Sign Language (KSL) for sexual minorities

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It's a bit unclear what exactly happened recently to prompt the article, but the general information it conveys is interesting.

"Korean deaf LGBT activists create new signs to express identities with pride", by Lee Hae-rin, The Korea Times (9/24/22)

Woo Ji-yang, 33, is a deaf gay man based in the southern city of Busan. For most of his life, he felt shame and humiliation when he introduced his sexual identity in Korean Sign Language (KSL). The manual sign for "gay" in KSL describes an act of anal intercourse between two men.

Gyeonggi-based CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) and gay man Kim Bo-seok, 34, confessed he has lived through a dilemma similar to that of Woo's. He has been a bridge between the hearing and deaf community as a child of deaf parents and a sign language researcher studying KSL for his Ph.D., but the sign language expressions that contain overly sexualized and degrading connotations of sexual minorities have made him hesitate to come out and live freely for a long time.

Similarly, the sign language expression for "lesbian" in Korea visualizes a particular act of intercourse ― two women rubbing bodies against each other. Such expressions are often used with frowns upon sign translators' faces, although the sign does not contain any use of negative facial expressions by definition. Most importantly, they are "offensive and misleading terms, which can arouse self-contempt from an LGBT signer's perspective," Woo and Kim said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

So they gathered with likeminded deaf sexual minorities in December 2019 and formed an advocacy group titled Korean Deaf LGBT, to create alternative languages that they can use with pride and respect. Because they believe "language must be shaped by those who use it."

Link to the much longer article here.


Selected writings

[h.t. Mark Swofford]


  1. John Swindle said,

    October 4, 2022 @ 5:13 am

    According to Wikipedia KSL is part of the Japanese Sign Language family along with Japanese Sign Language (JSL) and Taiwanese Sign Language (TSL), with little difficulty in communicating between the three. Possibly different origins but strong influence from Japanese occupation. Doesn't mean they'd necessarily share any particular sign, of course.

  2. Jongseong Park said,

    October 4, 2022 @ 6:06 am

    The signs for different countries in KSL often seem to depict stereotypes about them from what I remember, so I'm not entirely surprised about the existence of crude signs about sexual minorities. Much like we've been educating ourselves not to use pejorative terms in spoken language due to changes in attitude towards minorities, it seems natural that similar efforts would take place in KSL due to social changes. There needn't have been any specific event that sparked this reporting.

  3. Chas Belov said,

    October 5, 2022 @ 7:20 pm

    I seem to recall articles concerning American Sign Language (ASL) going through such a change. I'm not actually conversant with ASL so can't say for certain whether this was true.

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