Did Depp and Portman sign the word 'tampon' by mistake in Paul McCartney music video?

Paul McCartney at the 2012 Grammys.
Paul McCartney at the 2012 Grammys.Kevin Winter / Kevin Winter / Getty Images / Today

For his new music video “My Valentine,” Paul McCartney enlisted the aid of Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp to interpret the lyrics of his song through sign language. However, some in the sign-language community are now claiming the actors botched the effort.

The video, released on April 13, came in three editions: one with Portman, one with Depp, and one splicing the two together.  According to UK tabloid The Sun, both actors signed the word “tampon” instead of "appear," and Depp additionally signed "enemy" while attempting “valentine.”

A spokesperson for the British Deaf Association told the Sun, “The sign for tampon does seem to come up from both Johnny and Natalie, which causes some confusion, especially as American and British sign languages are different.”

But in an interview with TODAY.com, Jami Fisher, ASL Program Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, explained that while there may have been inconsistencies, the video is “not as scandalous” as reports are claiming.

“[The video] is not literally English to ASL, it’s conceptually interpreted, and appropriately so,”  Fisher says. “For me, the biggest error was when Johnny Depp signed ‘valentine’ at the end. His middle finger should have been reversed, so it looks like he’s giving the middle finger. It doesn’t mean ‘enemy’ though.”

As for the “tampon” blunder, Fisher believes that’s a difference of interpretation.

 “'Tampon' doesn't have its own sign; in context, it uses a classifier predicate to mean 'an object of that shape is inserted,' she told TODAY.com. "The video uses a similar classifier predicate with the same handshapes to mean that (s)he 'appeared.'  They have similar conceptual representations … but actual meaning is made based on context.”

Fisher does agree with the Brits that using a proper interpreter instead of celebrities would have been nice, but both applaud McCartney’s effort to bring more attention to the language.

Adds Fisher, “The disconnect between British and American sign language is probably coming from the British audience, not the American. That’s my perspective. For a signer to watch this, they’d probably say, ‘Oh these people just learned sign language for the video.’”

And judging by other responses, she may be correct.

Christine, a nationally certified ASL interpreter, wrote on MTV News, “British sign language and American sign language are two completely different languages. They signed this in American Sign Language and while it wasn't perfect, they did not sign the gaffes mentioned in this article. I just think it's pretty cool that Paul McCartney thought this would be artistically and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.  Good on Natalie and Johnny for their work on this. It may get more people interested in learning ASL, since these are three very popular artists.”

Adds Victoria, “This just proves that most people would rather point out the flaws of others instead of actually enjoying the performance.”

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