TikTok user miserably misrepresents the ASL language and culture in her videos

TikTok user miserably misrepresents the ASL language and culture in her videos

First appearing on my TikTok feed a few weeks ago, clad in intense clown makeup and illuminated by flashing lights, a user by the name of Rosalie captivated my attention in seconds—not for her makeup but for her sign language. 

Or, lack thereof. 

Noticing immediately the lack of facial expressions, incorrect grammar, and even made-up signs, my limited—yet present—knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL) was enough to understand that the girl was so, so wrong. 

With under two years of ASL under my belt, I have a novice understanding of the language; I understand the basic grammar rules, how to form a sentence correctly, and can interpret and sign with increasing ease as the days pass. So when I saw Rosalie, a girl around my age, signing to lyrics of a song with a deadpan face underneath the clown makeup, using signs that were simply incorrect and in the wrong order, I immediately jumped to the comments to see if others caught the discrepancies. 

And they did. 

The hundreds of comments, from both deaf and hearing people, were questioning her validity and knowledge—and demanding an explanation. Following that initial backlash, Rosalie defended her “harmless” video, claiming that she’s taken ASL throughout high school and eventually used it as a “coping mechanism” and “outlet” for her anxiety. She—although initially labeling her video as an ASL interpretation—wrote off her blatant misuse of the language as Pidgin Signed English (PSE). 

A combination of English and ASL, PSE is not a true language; it simply bridges the gaps between ASL and English. Her PSE claim did explain the lack of grammar and, simply put, her failure to correctly translate the lyrics of the song; however, it did not excuse the lack of facial expressions and the made-up signs. 

ASL is not an aesthetic—it is a language, a culture, and a means of communication amongst millions.

ASL is a visual language, using the hands and the face; non-manual signals (NMS) are a crucial component of the language, and every single video on Rosalie’s page lacks that and so much more. Every single video is the same miserable misrepresentation of ASL: claiming to be fluent and knowledgeable on the language that she uses as a “coping mechanism,” the same clown makeup hiding the facial expressions that she does not utilize, and the obviously incorrect signs. 

What is most alarming, though, is her failure to take criticism from deaf creators—her failure to correctly represent a language, a community, a culture. 

Not only is it harmful to post these videos brazenly butchering the language, but it is also simply shameful that Rosalie deletes both constructive criticism and complaints from deaf creators. Only seeing their thoughts from duets, not from comments—because Rosalie deletes them—it is obvious that deaf creators and people are upset and offended. 

No one understands what she is saying, and her mistakes and misuse of the language show that she may be a beginner, or she may have initially learned incorrectly. Whether she is a beginner or has signed for years, it is important to listen to those who strictly use that language to communicate. 

If they say you are not signing something correctly, you must listen and correct yourself. If they say you are misusing their language, you must understand that and do better. If they are saying you are not using ASL or PSE but rather some made-up combination of signs, you must stop. And you must do better. 

Ignoring deaf people and continuing to misuse their language as an “aesthetic” is fundamentally, morally, and humanely wrong. ASL is not an aesthetic—it is a language, a culture, and a means of communication amongst millions. Rosalie’s videos display disrespect for a community and for a language that she claims to be “fluent” in. 

As a hearing person taking ASL, I have an understanding of the language, which is why I immediately noticed the incorrect signs and lack of facial expressions. But, for a hearing person with no ASL knowledge, they could watch the same exact videos I did, and—this is the scary part—not see anything wrong with it. With that logic, they would not truly understand the deaf creators’ complaints and criticism, therefore defending Rosalie—a girl mistreating a community and misusing their language. 

Those who are hearing cannot defend or excuse her actions because it is not their place. They—we—have not faced the adversity and discrimination that deaf people have, and it is ignorant to defend a girl who hasn’t faced that adversity either. 

The disrespect, the ignorance, the misrepresentation—it is shameful, and it is harmful. Rosalie has no place to mislead the nearly half-million following that she has, and she has no place to ignore the hundreds of people telling her that she is wrong. 

Between the made-up signs, incorrect translations and grammar, distracting lights, small signing space, and, most blatant of all, the disrespect to the deaf community and their language, it is time that Rosalie does better. 

She doesn’t even need the clown makeup—she already looks foolish without it.