American Sign Language Analysis

1045 Words5 Pages
Conversations and Literature in American Sign Language
Need. Need. Need. Thus begins the poem “Need” by Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner, a Deaf and hearing poet, respectively. In a social commentary about our dependence on oil, Cook repeats the sign for “need” (an X hand that flicks forward, away from the chest) before slowly becoming a moving image that looks similar to a drill pumping oil from the ground. This use of a specific handshape to represent an idea is the basis of American Sign Language. Additionally, the use of that same handshape to create a sort of story without forming actual signs is an example of imagery in ASL literature.
In English literature, the regular syntax of the language is often changed to produce a different
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Although some things are implied about ASL literature, or can be inferred just by learning about the language itself, I have been unable to find a substantial amount of research on ASL literature thus far. However, Karen Christie and Dorothy M. Wilkins, two of the very few people I have been able to find who have done any amount of research relating to this subject, stated that: “…in much the same way that the poetry of non-signed languages use sound play and rhyme, ASL poetry uses visual play and sign rhymes.” (K. Christie and D. Wilkins, 58). This shows that people are aware of the details of ASL literature, but there still isn’t enough research being done on the topic.
The specific question that guided my research is: “What are the differences in syntax and imagery between conversational ASL and ASL literature, and what effect do those differences have on ASL literature?” Anyone who has learned American Sign Language can attest that its literature is, in fact, different than its “regular” language. However, after discovering that not much research has been done on ASL literature, I wanted to know how they’re different.
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To do this, I used videos of both stories and poems so I could examine a few different kinds of literature, as opposed to using only stories or only poems. Four videos were used, in which two of them were poems (“Need” and “The Day the Saucers Came”) and two were stories (“The Deaf Tree” and “The Ball Story”). I also planned on using videos of conversations in ASL so I could do my own comparisons between conversational ASL and literature. However, I was unable to find any videos of normal conversations and could only find exceedingly primitive examples that were made for people who are trying to learn the basics of ASL. I would like to note that I did find vlogs, which are comparable to a one-sided conversation, made by Deaf people, but I am not an interpreter and no translations were available, so I decided against using them to supplement my research. As a result, I instead used my own knowledge and previous research to draw more information about conversational ASL. When doing my own analyses of the videos, I used the other sources that I have to help me better examine and understand what I am seeing so I could make valid
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