poetry in ASL

Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Thu Aug 5 17:23:24 UTC 1999

Bob Fitzke <fitzke at VOYAGER.NET> writes:


>  I wondered at the time whether anyone wrote poetry in ASL, with the dancing
> movement of the hands serving the function of meter and rhyme in oral
> poetry.  Our president's oration sure looked a lot better than it sounded.
> Nyone familiar
> with such poetry?

Don't know if anyone writes poetry in ASL. But my oldest son (while he was
between 35 and 40) learned ASL in a two-year, associate degree, program at
Lansing, MI Community College. He does interpretation of all kinds including
classroom interpreting for student-clients. At one time he interpreted for a
singing group that performed for hearing impaired and deaf audiences. They
called themselves "The Sounds of Silence".

It is a whole different world.

Yes, there is ASL poetry, or more generally "artsign". It involves not just "the
dancing movement of the hands", but all the parameters of ASL phonology (and
higher-level aspects, e.g., syntax) to create rhythm, patterns of similarity and
contrast, connotation, drama, and other characteristics that distinguish poetry
from prose.

For example, in a single line, or group of lines, or stanza, a particular
handshape may be used in every sign, creating an effect of smoothness and
continuity like (but not always strictly parallel to) that of rhyme or
alliteration in spoken poetry. Signs may be reversed (signed with, e.g., left
hand on right instead of vice versa), or articulated at a different location
from the usual one, or with a modified handshape, to maintain the flow. All
these modifications are actually or potentially meaningful, which provides
another level of structure for the poet/performer to work with and against.

And it's not all on the hands. Prose ASL, like probably all sign languages, also
uses facial and head gestures and body position grammatically; and these, too,
are incorporated and enriched in artsign.

-- Mark

   Mark A. Mandel : Senior Linguist and Manager of Acoustic Data
  Mark_Mandel at dragonsys.com : Dragon Systems, Inc. : 617 796-0267
 320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02460, USA : http://www.dragonsys.com/
                     (speaking for myself)

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