SoundSpace Online

Sign Language Literature

Sign language literature is the literature of the Deaf community. It is conveyed in sign – the language of culturally Deaf people. The idea that a literature can exist in a sign language is consistent with current expanded notions of what constitutes “literature.” Literature is no longer seen as synonymous with the written form. Just as spoken languages without a written can have an oral literature, sign languages can have a sign literature.
 
Sign language literature foregrounds the visual image and has been described as a “literature of the body” ([139]). It exploits the artistic and imaginative possibilities of a visual-gestural language, allowing the creator of this literature to “play with sign.” ABC stories in ASL are an example of a type of “sign play” in which the handshapes of the fingerspelled alphabet are used to tell a story.
 
Sign literature is seen as distinct from deaf literature. Deaf literature, as defined on Gallaudet University Library, refers to “works by deaf authors and literary works by deaf or hearing authors, which include deaf characters in short stories, novels, poetry, and plays”. Please visit this Gallaudet University website page for more information on the definition of deaf literature. The series “Tales from Signtown” by Nick Sturley is an example of a written work by a deaf author in which he rewrites the classic fairy tales such as "Red Riding Hood" to give them a deaf perspective. Please visit this Download website page for the story of "Red Riding Hood". "The Sound of all Things" is an example of a story written by a hearing author Myron Uhlberg in which he tells the experiences of hearing child with Deaf parents. Please visit this Pajka Blogspot website page to find a blog on "The Sound of all Things".
 
Sign language literature can be viewed as falling under the category of deaf literature, but “refers specifically to pieces that are performed in sign language and almost always produced by deaf people” ([211]). This includes works such as: signed translations of written works, signed renderings of films, or adaptations of existing texts so that they are told in sign language and include deaf characters and settings. Original sign language literature arises from a deaf worldview, and is created in sign language by culturally Deaf individuals. Please visit this Slope website page for some examples of original ASL poetry, and this University of Bristol website page for an article on BSL poetry and a linguistic approach, and this Auslanstorybooks website page for examples of Australian Sign Language (Auslan) poetry.