Elements of ASL Poetry and Culture

Poetic Parallelism, Gesture and  Metaphor in the History of American Sign Language:  Linguistic Institute- Berkeley, CA, 2009

The following paper proposes to discuss four aspects of Sign Language, particularly American Sign Language (ASL) with an emphasis on a History of Deaf poetry.  The research will attempt to integrate the following areas based on courses from the Linguistic Institute held in Berkeley, California, 2009:  The first section will explore aspects of language contact and change between ASL and English including the historical context in which the modern genre of ASL poetry was born and the confluence of spoken languages and technology on ASL as a natural language.  Following this foundation, a basic overview of how poets create poetry in signed languages and the literary parallelism found within those forms will described.  As an addendum to this comparison of poetic symmetries, an attempt will be made to understand certain expressive features of the well-known poem "Dandelions"' by linguist and poet Clayton Valli.  The final section of the paper will be a proposal for research in the field of metaphor in ASL and will outline one possible method of future research in this area. 


The Beginning
If there can be said to be a an official big bang to the recent developments of ASL poetry, it may have ignited along with other verbal and written modernist forms in the 1980's.  It has been noted that one of the most influential formal creative explosions in Deaf poetry was during a reading by Alan Ginsberg, guru of the beat generation whose poem Howl stirred a generation for it's notorious recognition of previously hidden themes.  According to reports, in the winter of 1984, Ginsberg lectured at a poetry seminar held at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and was interpreted by ASL poet Patrick Greybill.  According to recollections of the event, Greybill spontaneously glossed one of the key stanzas from Howl and many in the crowd were inspired to take a turn in the realization of their own works within the deaf genre (Krentz 1999).

Of course, Alan Ginsberg was only part of a movement of poets during that time period, perhaps one of the most well-noted Deaf poets being Clayton Valli, who not only wrote two very well-known poems, Dandelions and Cow and Horse but also conducted and established much of the foundational study of literary art in ASL, which was indeed affected by it's verbal counterpart at least on the American scene.

ASL in and of itself is one of many different types of sign language used by deaf people around the globe.  So, while the medium is the same (primarily manual gestures) the words themselves, though many are iconic, are different in different parts of the world.  American Sign Language is used primarily in North America, British sign in Britain, Italian sign in Italy while Ameslan is enacted in Australia.  The possibilities are as endless as the geographical regions and communities which have Deaf persons.  Signed languages however do not always correspond to their oral-language context due to mitigating factors such as the location of various schools for the Deaf.  Other forms of sign such as Spoken Exact English also have been created, although are not organically-based such as a natural sign language would be and are generally disliked as forms of communication by the Deaf community.

It was perhaps French educator and innovator Abbé de l'Épée who first recognized sign language as a "Natural" language.  His approach in the 1750's 60's and 70's was both unique and provocative.  The school which he founded for deaf-mute pupils in France (and Europe) was based on his observation that sign is and could be part of the organic process by which all languages develop; that being a human propensity for language. (Stokoe 1960)  Indeed, a case has been made that Sign may well be a precursor to to language as we know it, not only in human infants but possibly in our evolutionary ancestry.  Despite the lack of appropriate speaking apparatus, many primates can be taught to sign (in a primitive way).  Additionally, infants will show co-expressivity of gesture prior to meaningful verbal utterances which, in deaf children, will develop into fully realized languages that not only contain iconic signs but those of every level of abstraction (Stokoe 2001).

In terms of language contact phenomenon, there are several examples of entire communities ranging from Bali, Indonesia to an Urubu tribe in Brazil which, through the influence of a large number of Deaf members, have become bimodal, both speaking and signing (Bishop 2005). 

Code Switching
One group in the US has come together to form an organization called CODA, children of deaf adults.  This group has only recently come into being corresponding somewhat to the identification of Signed Languages which have, in the last fifty years, been included in the linguistic world.  Children raised in deaf families are essentially "Deaf" first and foremost with their primary language contact being deaf or bilingual/bimodal.  In terms of cultural style there are many aspects that differ between the culture of hearing and deaf.  One example would be the amount of eye contact a person has while communicating with another.  In the deaf community, there is a great deal of eye contact as the nature of the language is visual.  In a hearing person's world, communication can happen loudly through walls or sitting side-by-side in the car.  Often there is very little eye contact in the hearing world and when eye contact is increased, discomfort can arise (190).

As we will see later in this discussion, there are linguistically complex issues when attempting to analyze Sign Language speakers along the typical paths of language research.  For example, in studies on code-switching much of the discussion talks about plugging-in and unplugging various syntactic units.  In a multimodal language combination, there are possible variations that have nothing to do with the sequential organization of written or spoken communication.  In ASL code-switching occurs in a "vertical" way by the overlayment of whispering or mouthing words and in the reverse by adding ASL-like signs while speaking.

The world of the CODA has another interesting language contact phenomenon which isn't necessarily a "mechanism of interference" so much as it is a natural byproduct of the standard transmission of first languages; that of parent to child.  Interestingly, deaf mothers will speak vocally to their hearing and non-hearing babies, resulting in characteristic "Deaf speech" of those infants.  "Coda-Talk", as it is referred to, is generally used among other children of deaf parents and hearing persons who have learned it from deaf friends and relatives.  Even though familiar, the hyper-nasalized and characteristic manner of speech can be a surprise to those hearing CODA's who perhaps never before had used their deaf voice in front of other hearing people.  To have it be an entire phenomenon instead of an individual infant's private world view offers a deeply-rooted communication style for the members of this community (201).

Transfer of Linguistic Features
One study based on a corpus of of CODA emails indicates a transfer of certain features of sign language into written English.  These are used as a conscious choice as the establishment of an online identity and can't be considered as linguistic interference but are rather more along the lines of identifying with an ethnic group.  In order of occurrence from highest percentage to lowest, the transfer of features that were noted include the elimination of at least seven different syntactical units: subjects, copula, determiners, auxiliaries and modals, prepositions and objects (204). 

Within the CODA community there are many creative uses of ASL which allow for "loanwords" to become officially "CODA-talk".   Coda individuals are of course only a small subset of those persons who use ASL to communicate.  In the general deaf culture there are also instances of loanwords becoming part of the everyday lexicon of speakers of their language.  The first instance that comes to mind is the use of fingerspelling.  Fingerspelling can also be nonce.

One such study asserts that there is a specific way in which loanwords are incorporated into ASL.  Two examples of fingerspelled loan words are the words for "bread" and "back".  Originally, these words would have been spelled out in their entirety, but have since become shortened to "bd" and "bk".  This is a fairly typical adaptation and occurs regularly once any fingerspelling has occurred a few times in a conversation.  Generally, the central letters will be gutted and the fingerspelled word will be shortened to the edge letters.  In a more complex borrowing, the semantic root of an existing sign is retained while adding a phonological component from spoken English.  This would be accomplished by maintaining the original movement of the hand while adding handshape variations that introduce the fingerspelled phonetic component.  The hands may, however, be placed at a different, usually higher, place of articulation (head, torso, lower trunk) in order to highlight the increased complexity of the sign and to increase it's visibility on the body. For example, the sign for "videotape" is a combination the root sign for "film" with the letters V and T added (Weisenberg ----). 

Language Death
Technology, at the same time that it is bringing a visual language together through the use of web-cams and online video, can also be a divisive question in Deaf culture.  The root of the politics in the use of technology to assist Deaf persons to become more hearing-oriented can be seen also as a threat to the community and possibly to the language itself.  The Deaf community has had a long history of struggling to find a gathering of forces that now it is possible "to reject prospective members just because they used to hear, because their parents chose an implant for them, because they find environmental sound useful, etc." (Woodcock, 1992).  Technology such as cochlear implantation raises questions about where sign language is going and how it will be shaped by the changes that this era offers, in terms of schooling, affiliation, and identity.  Online communities offer the possibilities for all kinds of language change to occur between visually speaking groups.  For example, the use of loan words may increase between varieties of sign language as they bump up against each other in cyberspace.  Perhaps the numbers of deaf children growing up with access to the internet and thus video technology will correspond with those same children having access to assistive hearing devices.

ASL has many unique variations in the world of language contact and change due to it's bimodality, the influence of Deaf schools in the shaping of islands of bimodal persons from differing spoken language origins and the ongoing effects of technology in uniting visual language speakers. 

While TTY and closed-captioning were specifically aimed at helping Deaf persons to enjoy the same type of lifestyle as their Hearing counterparts, they also were part of a cyclical cycle of ever-changing technological innovations.  The silent film for example used to be available and then was replaced by sound technology which was then close-captioned (Lang 2002).  Today, there is an exploding use of text messaging and internet video uploads that could theoretically make the use of sign ubiquitous or, conversely, there could be almost no Deaf people left with whom to form a community.

The history of Sign Language goes back as far as time, for there were certainly deaf members of every community of humans on the planet.  Each of these individuals has had a unique experience in growing up with deaf family or not, with the access to education or not and has had universal and personal experiences with the concept of language contact and language change that are unusual in respect to language evolution (McCleary 2003).  Unlike other language contact phenomena, deafness has nothing to do with trade patterns, slavery, or geographical boundaries.  The singular context of the nature of Signed Languages lends itself to radical shifts and changes in an era when these languages could die or expand their influence dramatically.  Let us hope that the internet, video and a conscious recognition of the word in visual form will continue to be expressed in the arts of ASL.


In ASL the sign for poetry is "heart + express". (Lapiak 2009)

While ASL poetry has existed for many years, as evidenced by the American classics Dandelions and White Rose, the formal study of concepts relating to the formation and analysis of Deaf poetry has been relatively recent.  Storytelling in Deaf culture has been passed down from generation to generation in the same manner, relatively speaking, as an oral-traditional culture, the caveat being that it exchanges grammar for gesture and sound play for visual play (Christie 1997).  Linguist Clayton Valli's unpublished Doctoral Dissertation was the first substantial research to attempt to correlate traditional literary terminology with aspects of Deaf art, focusing primarily on rhyme and meter.  Since the relatively recent time of this seminal work, much research has been done to classify and understand the parallels between oral and signed poetry.  As was stated by essayist Lori Hawk:

"ASL poetry is a literary form that evolved from the art of sign-language storytelling. Like English oral poetry, signed performance poetry uses the conventions of repetition, rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, and meter to construct linguistic patterns that add emphasis, meaning, and structure to word forms. Unlike traditional verse, modern ASL poetry transforms 'phonetic nuances into visual ones and one-dimensional words into three-dimensional shape[s]' (Burch 1997)." 

For the purposes of the following section, a description of the terminology as it is applied to Deaf poetry is in order.  In it's written form, the study of poetry has been encoded on many levels and in a variety of ways by looking at those tools that poets use, for example through the use of Generative Metrics, Ethnopoetics and Oral-Traditional Theory.  Similarly, sign-poets also have an artistic code which in many aspects relate to these main intellectual traditions, though the dimensions of their expression are somewhat changed and have much to do with the medium of transmission being visual rather than auditory. 

In signed languages it is important to consider at least three foundational elements:
    -Handshape (HS) is the arrangement of the digits and how they are utilized.

    -Movement (M) refers to whether the motion is single, repeated or trilled.

    -Place of Articulation (POA) indicates where the sign occurs on the body for example on the head or         torso.  (Weisenberg --)

This framework may be useful when looking for concordances in ASL poetry video.  Links to the poems being discussed are provided.

Cinematic Terminology
The cinematic aspects of Deaf communication have been noted by more than a few authors.  It is obviously part of style in terms of the poem Remembering Cynthia Ann Savage and can also be seen in  the more naturally improvised poem The Old Man.  Deaf Actor Bernard Bragg was one of the first to note the cinematic aspects of Deaf poetry and this was later supported by researchers William Stokoe and Clayton Valli.  For many years, and even to this day, ASL is mistaken for miming or viewed as an oversimplified language because of it's iconicity.  Surprisingly, it isn't all about making pictures with the hands.  It has been long road to achieving the independence of a fully realized natural language and has only recently been encoded in terms of poetic structures which resonate with literary analysts.  Now, based on a clear understanding of signed poetry as a linguistic art form, it is only natural to add cinematic terms to describing what is not only pictures with the hands but also framing, close-ups, cross-cuts, and cutaway views in an art form that is basically a film written, directed and produced by a single actor. (Bauman 2003).  

When looking at parallelism in ASL poetry one might also consider the idea to be more akin to artistic symmetry.  The terms are closely related and may both be used for the purposes of this discussion though there is a rightful association with the idea of parallelism in that it is associated with straight lines and straight lines are those written on a page or spoken by a single mechanism in linear time rather than in the air with the mechanism of two hands.  Symmetry in it's classic sense can be linked to beauty, and beauty to art, verbal, visual and acoustic.  In ASL poetry there may be more options for symmetry than in vocal forms because the symmetries can occur not only in the word class, phonology, prosody and notionality of the typical line which in a sense are bilateral functions but also in the vertical axis, frontal-posterior parallelism and embedded compounding of meaning represented by simultaneous visual cues that are unavailable to poets of the spoken and written form. 

Symmetry is in many ways the basis for wholeness, balance and harmony.  However, without contrasting tensions in the form of asymmetries the return to wholeness could not be possible and the richness of art forms such as poetry would be impossible.  Contrasts such as "dark" and "light" pervade the arts and are demonstrated by pieces such as the black and white photographs by Ansel Adams and in poetry the concept of contrastive notional parallelism.  It seems that having two brain hemispheres corresponds strongly with the propensity toward integrated and opposing dualisms in the human art forms. (Sutton-Spence & Kaneko 2007).  With this in mind, one can consider the following potentialities in these signs demonstrated by poet Peter Cook:  http://www.ntid.rit.edu/dpg/images/PeterCook.jpg

Symmetry in ASL poetry can be established in at least two different ways:  1) By choosing signs which make use of both hands simultaneously and 2) by signing two different one-handed signs simultaneously.  In the latter case, a Deaf poet may be able to establish symmetry in a variety of ways that utilize three-dimensional space.  For example, a poet may concurrently place the two otherwise unrelated hand signs in the same spatial field on the left and right sides of the body, select signs that contain the same handshape or even place one or two-handed signs sequentially in opposing spaces (287).

The other tool available to ASL poets is the symphonic-like quality of compounding various physical features into one moment and physical space.  In other words, there can be an overlap of one sign into the next.  One can see this visually represented in the time-line analysis of "Dandelions" in the following section by the use of parenthetical markings.  Additionally, an ASL poet may choose to keep the non-dominant hand in the visual frame.  While the hand does not repeatedly relate any important linguistic information, it does help to hold the effect of that presence in space to support the symmetrical balance.  Thirdly, the poet may choose to alternate the hand which is signing, creating spatial tension and setting up a moving symmetry between left and right.

Repeated signs and motions may be the easiest aspect to grasp for a non-signing observer.  While the nuances of hand-shape might be missed and the content of  the poem slippery, repetition along with visual rhythm is the key for understanding that what is being communicated may well be a form of verbal art rather than everyday discourse.  The element of repetition can be demonstrated in the poem Remembering Cynthia Ann Savage by artist Jon Savage:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPzFj5BGDlk

A partial translation by the author of this piece illustrates the lack of auditory correspondences with the phonemes or other verbal markers of oral poetry:  "Cynthia Ann Savage (Sanchez), my mom, who raised me. She had spoiled me so much spoiled and she taught me all about “love” in many different ways than one way of communication. I always have felt her free spirit with her life. She was very strict about hugs [...]" (Savage 2009)  The translation when compared to the film representation cannot make it more clear that translation from signed poetry to textual art is an art in and of itself.  Though it has been done, it seems always to require cautionary explanation.  The poetic form in video is a relatively recent occurrence and has more than a few similarities with cinematography, as this artist appears to be exploring. 

Another example of repetition in ASL poem can be demonstrated by this video piece entitled It'll be OK. According to the author, the poem is from the perspective of a deaf baby in the womb.  Even without knowledge of ASL, an observer can see the repeated element of the title phrase within the sign of the artist.  Contrastive hand shapes serve to additionally highlight the title message with a palms up/palms down theme.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wQuKW-KdhA 

One possible element of repetition may be the continued hold of a particular sign on one side whilst continuing to sign with the other hand.  Within the poetic frame, an actual physical space drawn out by the actions of the poet, a spatial harmony can be created by maintaining a constant hand shape for example, one the left, while working off the tone created by that handshape, orientation or theme with the moving hand.  (Sutton-Spence & Kaneko 2001)  While this is probably more like the persistence of the ringing of a bell in a musical composition, it may also serve similar functions in the persistence of quality that repetition conveys, however lacking in the comparison of rhythmic function that repetition of the written word would create.  Another possibility for the use of a held sign would be in a more phonetic sense used as a coda.  The held sign being the core of an idea whilst the second hand explores possible summations of that core theme such as in the poem "Summer" by Dorothy Miles, a record of which is unavailable at this time. 

In the history of Deaf poetry one has to consider what a long road it has been for many deaf children and adults who for many years have been thought of as having no real language at all.  Of course, art itself may be born of the need to express strong emotions and for deaf children growing up in Europe and America at least, the solitude was pervasive.  It is no surprise then based on the early history of deaf schooling that perhaps the earliest known example of rhyming in Deaf poetry comes not from ASL, but from France, where deaf education had an early start.  Poet Pierre Pélissier was bimodal and writing in the 1830's.  The rhyme structure of his written poem Le Sourd-Muet en Vacances is aa,bb,cc and, although not a complex rhythm, manages to overcome his basic early ineducation in a developed language system and to finally emerge as a first artistic accomplishment in his eventual education (Quartararo 2008).  In the modern day, the brain's rhyming activity in cortical scans has been examined and found to be different in hearing and non-hearing groups.  Language tests demonstrate that for language processing in general both deaf and hearing subjects present similar activation in language processing centers (Broca's and Wernicke's) although activation patterns are not similarly localized in the two groups when given rhyming tasks (Corina 1998).  Rhyme occurs in Deaf poetry, but through the activation of language centers in other parts of the brain.

    -Movement Path

Contrasting or parallel movements of the signing hands can be made in mirror image, alternatingly or oppositionally to create spatial symmetry or tension.
    -Hand Shape (Alliteration)

The use of hand shape in ASL poetry can be used in multiple ways to create alliteration.  Two additional aspects of this feature are the anagram and the palindrome wherein the handshape for a particular letter may begin a line and then through succeeding lines spell out a word or number forwards and backwards.
    -Non-Manual Markers

Non-manual markers at the hemi-stich and final positions can include body movement (swaying, rotating), head orientation (up, down, nodding), and facial expression (pursing of the lips or raising of the eyebrows).

Rhythm in "art-sign" can be similar to that of it's verbal counterpart and can also utilize patterns which are more akin to musical composition.  Specifically, to ensure continuity in piece, they may alter the handshape, or could purposefully cause hand placement to begin and end in the same spatial position.  This effectively bends the phonetic well-formedness of the selected sign but adds to the literary flow.  In this way, the poetry is more similar to a song where the lyrics have been adapted to the melody so that there is a correspondence between the two (Blondel & Miller 2001).

In contrast to these instances wherein movement departs from speaking, the poet can also alter the order of the selected words away from traditional prosaic grammar, similarly to that of a verbal poet.  An ASL poet may choose words that have similar handshapes to maintain the flow of the piece.

Without a knowledge of ASL, it is impossible to know whether the syntax has been altered but it is possible to see the equivalence in handshapes and the time equivalence in the piece, The Old Manhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZGSn2po7DE   Posted commentary of this video includes the phrase "A-Z and back again" which seems to be an ASL contact phenomenon in the written words of ASL speakers.  It's narrative is not only cinematic but also has a rhythm that is established by repeated themes such as birth, age, and the changing physical location of the old man.  If one were using descriptions from the world of dance, the would certainly be a pivot in the story where the direction returns to it's starting place, or Z to A.  In terms of cinematic descriptions we can see close-up facial expressions combined with cut-away views of the man standing or medium shots where he performs actions.  Embedded within these cinematic techniques are classifiers, handshapes and changes in direction, attitude and speed.  The main components of rhythm include "length of signs, variations in speed and pausing" (26).

Movement (M) can be considered a sub section of either rhythm or rhyme depending on whether the movement is fast, slow, or in the parallelism of the movement between the two hands.  Clayton Valli attemped to define "lines" by looking at movements and holds, a system devised by Liddell and Johnson in the 1980's.

In the history of educators' debate over the use of "oralist" or "manualist" forms of Deaf education, the ability to write poetry was crucial.  Deaf students took part in public exhibitions to demonstrate skills such as mathematical computations and other "higher-order" thinking so as to be judged on their method of education.  Educators were concerned that a language based on gestures would not be sufficient and that the "lower-order" manualism of the pupils would inhibit intellectual advancement. (Esmail 2008)  One point to consider in looking at the history of deaf poetry is that not all poetry by deaf poets is signed, as most Deaf persons who are literate enough to sign poetry are also fluent in the written language context surrounding them.  Poets such as Laura C. Redden (1839-1923) incorporated meter into their written poetry, as was the fashion for the day.  Many of their poems were often criticized by editors as being inherently inferior because the author could not hear.  Some deaf authors, unsure of their abilities, turned to rhyming dictionaries for reassurance; others were supported by poet friends to carry on in the face of adversity.  Redden's poetry was praised initially under the pen name "Howard Glyndon".  Critics knew she was a woman, but they did not know she was deaf.  When they learned of her deafness, there was little acclaim to be had, thus demonstrating the bias for written poetry to be sound-based.  When free verse came into fashion, the writings of deaf poets were released from some of the prejudices that inform what was then thought to be an acoustic art (Clark 2006).  In the 1980's, Clayton Valli attempted to look at the traditional "line" in poetry and create a meaningful definition of that term as it applies to signed poetry.

    -Formal construction: There are a number of techniques in ASL poetry that make use of constructional      constraints.  The primary one being fingerspelling.  Word Class symmetries may also exist,                       perhaps being signed simultaneously.

    -Phonology: Although the term "Phoneme" seems to be linguistically unrelated to a language without         sound, it is currently used to represent those elements in signed languages with equivalent                     linguistic function.  In the past the term "Chereme" was used though it has now fallen out of favor.

Other Parallels
Notional Parallelism is readily expressed in symmetrical form in manual languages.  Near synonyms and impressions can be relayed by the use of techniques listed above such as the alternating use of both hands, a held sign or simultaneous signing along any of three or more physical axes in space.

Contrastive notional parallelism can also be demonstrated in, for example, the use of the "sun-rising" versus "sun-setting"signs in Italian sign-language.  These ideas can be signed simultaneously with the left and right hands creating a diagonal spatial tension and a contrastive notional parallelism within the same temporal space (Sutton-Spence & Kaneko 294).  This poetic contrast couldn't happen for example in Spoken Exact English even if both hands were signing the ideas in synchrony, for although the opposition in meaning would be apparent and also the hands could be placed in mirror-image location, the tripled artistry of the contrastive movement would be lost.

While ASL poetry has many correlaries with spoken and written poetry, it also clearly has possibilities which oral poetry does not posses.  The primary reason for this is that in speech and text the sounds of the language and the written word progress in a linear motion and can be compared and contrasted literally line by line or breath by breath.  In a language based on the visual field, different patterns can emerge that cannot be represented in the traditional linear form, although there are definite correspondences in units of meaning and lines that can be drawn in space.  The human mind perhaps cannot help but create symmetries in the artistic use of any language.  As has been shown, there are aspects of signed poetry that cannot be explained exactly in terminology based only on a literary lexicon, cinematic jargon is also useful.  Additionally, a visual representation of correspondences may be help to clarify certain aspects of the rhythm rhyme and meter of a piece.

"Dandelions" by Clayton Valli: A Textual Analysis Inspired by McNeill Lab and Laban Movement Notation

It has been said that it is near to impossible to translate into text the subtleties communicated in an ASL poem (Hou 2009).  There are many instances of famous poems such as Howl and Jabberwocky being translated into ASL and posted in video format on the internet, however, the opposite does not hold true.  In a search of web-based publications of ASL video poetry, there are only rare samples of signed poetry being translated into a text based format.  Records do exist of better-known poets.  In addition to this, many questions arise as to exactly what movements constitute gesture in a signed language versus spoken language.  To further complicate matters, the way in which sign language in general is recorded in textual form has many different forms of notation ranging back to one of the first recorded sign dictionaries in French from the 1750's (Stokoe 1960).  There have been other methods since then, perhaps the best known being Liddel & Johnson's system of noting "movements" and "holds" without a standard worldwide format being adopted (Blondel & Miller 2001).

Chicago's McNeill Lab, among others, has conducted original research in Asia attempting to tease out gesture from speech during instances of descriptive recall (Duncan 2009).  In the following notation, principles from this type of notation have been implemented, such as vertical time markings, color-coding and the use of brackets to describe the onset and retraction of what would be called "Gesture Phrases" in a gestural analysis of spoken language.  Additionally, principles from the Laban Movement Notation system have also been incorporated.  The Laban Method was originally used by dance artist and theorist Rudolf Laban and was expanded by Irmgard Bartenieff.  In this method, the ideas of Body, Effort, Shape and Space have been isolated on a vertical and horizontal graph (Laban 2009).   For the purposes of this paper, it is important to note that both the McNeill Lab approach and also the Laban Method are not being used in their complete form.  The following is a less-complex and hybridized look at certain features of ASL poetry such as repetition, rhythm and  parallel motion.   It in no way attempts to recreate the intricacies of these notation systems.  However, it does offer a visually representative textual sample of the well-known poem Dandelions, by Clayton Valli.  It offers a textual look at analyzing the artistic expression of an advanced ASL poet in motion.

For the purposes of this paper, a basic look at poetic structure will be coded.  For further interpretation, video capability including milliseconds, knowledge of ASL and a more complete system of notation would be needed.  No text is included.  Notations will be made in the following system:

--In terms of non-hand movement, the following notations will be made:  [   ]  H=head   ( ) B=Body
--In terms of hand movement, only both hands will be coded in terms of "Effort", that effort being                 "Strong" or "Light".  {BHS}  = both hands strong  {BHL}=both hands light. 

--One element for hand "Shape" will be recorded, that being "Horizontal".  <H> = palms down

"Dandelions" by Clayton Valli:  

0:05             {BHL}
0:06          (     {BHL < >
0:07     [
0:08                                 ]
0:09     [
0:10                }     )     ]
0:13             {BHS
0:15            } {BHS
0:17                 }
0:19                    <
0:22             {BHL}
0:24                    <
0:25               {BHL}        ]
0:26                    >
0:28    [
0:29             {BHL}
0:31            {BHL
0:32                 }          
0:34         (     {BHL
0:36     [
0:37                        ]
0:39      [
0:40                        ]
0:42                }
0:43             {BHS}         )
0:44             {BHS}
0:45             {BHS}
0:46             {BHS}
0:49             {BHS
0:50         (
0:52     [
0:53                        ]
0:57     [
0:58                        ]
1:02     [             }     )    ]
1:05      [        {BHL            ]
1:07        (        }
1:10                    )
1:13                <
1:14             {BHL
1:16                > }    

When visually represented on a two dimensional surface including a time notation, definite elements of poetic style start to emerge, such as repeated one-second head movements such as at seven seconds and nine seconds and alternating stress in the "lightness" or "strongness" of his double-hand movements, specifically, Light, Light, Strong, Strong, L,L,L,L,L,S,S,S,S,S,L,L.  The two instances of increased body movement have fairly symmetrical periodicity (equivalence) and are bracketed by two smaller episodes, the first of which occurs at six seconds and acts as an introduction to the tone of the poem.  In this particular poem, the artist uses a significant number of dual hand gestures, rhyme and repetition.  There are also instances when his left hand in particular falls out of the poetic frame. Dandelions is known for it's symmetry and beauty.

Future Possibilities in ASL Metaphor Research

The possibility that gesture is the primal underlying human linguistic structure onto which other spoken languages are mapped or co-occur is significant in terms of looking at the metaphoric constructs of ASL speakers and non-deaf native English speakers.  With the advent of cognitive linguistics in the 1990's, sign and spoken languages have been finally united in the field of metaphor research.  Prior to this time, there was much debate as to whether human language evolved out of semantics or syntax and whether one was more fundamental than the other.  Questions about the nature of language, and the ultimate recognition that signed languages are natural offshoots of a genetically determined human need to communicate have their bases in metaphoric iconicity (Armstrong 2002).  The expression of poetry might be said to be a pinnacle of human expression in the realm of language manipulation, expression and imagery, both abstract and iconic.

Recent work in the analysis of metaphor in different signed languages points in the direction of multiple mapping strategies in at least one signed language.  Double mapping occurs in certain conceptual metaphors including a source domain and a target domain.  Signed languages rely on the the visual shapes, locations and movement of objects in space and therefore must create not only a manual signifier of the object but also a second source domain to express a non-visual idea.  An abstract thought such as "the mind" could be visualized as a container or "the mind" could be could be conceptualized as the body, such as it is in Catalan Sign.  Regardless, the need to express non-representational ideas via a visually-based language necessitates what researchers have called morphophonemic primes, visual metaphors, or iconic image-schematic items (Jarque 2005).   

In terms of understanding how the human mind uses metaphor as it's foundation for various branches away from the concrete, the study of signed-languages which contain a primacy that perhaps spoken languages do not may be quite useful.  By looking at sign, researchers might be able to better "see" the etymological path leading from the objective reality that we all share.  For although persons in different cultures all share physical experiences such as minds and bellies, gravity and feelings, the pathways for developing cultural attitudes certainly differ.  In Japanese Sign, "thought" is not located in the head but rather in the stomach.  In Catalan Sign Language, "ideas" are not objects but are liquid (Wilcox 2005).  All of which comparisons, by their very nature bring about the kind of imagery that provokes a poetic sensibility.

What then, is the future of metaphor research as it pertains to ASL?  What can be learned specifically by looking at poetics in relationship to the current state of understanding of ASL as a natural language?  A cursory review of the literature reveals that these are timely and unknown queries. Perhaps the most interesting study at this juncture which would also combine the two fields of literature and metaphor in the cognitive sense might consist of the creation of poetry in a systematic way through the use of iconic signifiers.  This would help bridge the gap between postulating a deeper metaphoric primacy of visual languages and the beginning of knowing the cognitive foundations which visual poetics uses to create a spatial and artful linguistic form of expression.

Bibliography: Works Consulted

Ann, J. (2001). Bilingualism and Language Contact. In C. Lucas (Ed.), The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages (33-60). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Armstrong, David (2002). Signing Metaphorically. Book Review. Sign Language Studies, 2:4

Bauman, H-Dirksen (2003). Redesigning Literature: The Cinematic Poetics of American Sign Language Poetry, Sign Language Studies, 4:1

Bishop, M. & Hicks, S. (2005). Orange Eyes: Bimodal Bilingualism in Hearing Adults from Deaf Families, Sign Language Studies, 5:2, 188-230.

Blondel, Marion & Miller, Christopher (2001). Movement and Rhythm in Nursery Rhymes in LSF, Sign Language Studies, 2:1

Burch, Susan. (1997). Deaf Poets’ Society: Subverting the Hearing Paradigm. Literature and Medicine. 16:1, 121-134.

Christie, Karen & Wilkins, Dorothy (1997). A Feast for the Eyes: ASL Literacy and ASL Literature, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Clark, John Lee (2006). Melodies Unheard: Deaf Poets and their Subversion of the "Sound" Theory of Poetry, Sign Language Studies 7:1

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Duncan, Susan (2009). Gesture and Language. Lecture Series at Berkeley, California Linguistic Institute. 

Esmail, Jennifer.  (2008). The Power of Deaf Poetry: The Exhibition of Literacy and the 19th Century Sign Language Debates.  Sign Language Studies, 8:4

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Hou, Lynn (2009). Interview. Conducted August 4, 2009 at Berkeley, California Linguistic Institute.

Jarque, Maria-Josep (2005). Double Mapping in Metaphorical Expressions of Thought and Communication in Catalan Sign-Language (LSC).  Sign Language Studies, 5:3

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Lapiak, Jolanta (------).  "A Splendid Flash of Concrete Poetry" in ASL trace, Photospeaking and/or Photowriting series. Retrieved August 6, 2009, from www.i8media.com

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Unknown Author (2008). ASL Poem: The Old Man [video] Retrieved August 2, 2009, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZGSn2po7DE

Unknown Author (2008). ASL Poem: It'll be OK [video] Retrieved August 2, 2009 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wQuKW-KdhA

Valli, Clayton. (1992). Language Contact in the American Deaf Community. New York: Academic Press, Inc.

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Weisenberg, Julie (-----).  Salience in American Sign Language Loanwords.  Department of Linguistics.  State University of New York at Stonybrook

Wilcox, Phyllis Perrin (2005). What Do You Think? Metaphor in Thought and Communication Domains in American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies, 5:3

Wilcox, Sherman E. (2009).  William C. Stokoe and the Gestural theory of Language Origins. Sign Language Studies. Volume 9, Number 4, Summer 2009, E-ISSN: 1533-6263 Print ISSN: 0302-1475 p 398-409.

Woodcock, Kathryn (1992). Cochlear Implants vs. Deaf Culture? In Mervin Garretson (ed.), Viewpoints on Deafness: A Deaf American Monograph. Silver Spring, MD: National Association for the Deaf.

Cover Art by Jolanta Lapiak reprinted with the permission of the Artist.

Available in hard-copy by request.

Online: https://sites.google.com/site/lenarosefelderms/poetic-parallelism-gesture-and-metaphor-in-the-history-of-american-sign-language