Monday, December 23, 2013

ASL storytelling

I've got a surprise for you:

That was the good surprise. Here's the shocker, though:
Rhymes don't mean anything in ASL.
Mother Goose?
The rhythm and cadence of "Jack and Jill went up the hill" kind of gets lost in JACK (sign-spell-sign to establish a namesign) JILL (sign-spell-sign) HILL GO WALK.
This is not to say that they don't sign the children's poems. They are part of the larger cultural experience. But poetry in ASL is a visual experience, not an auditory one.

As Hermione told Ron re Beedle the Bard, Muggles have entirely different stories. (I am not saying Deaf are Muggles. In fact, the Hearies are probably the Muggles in this analogy, in not knowing about an entire society that exists right within the larger community.)

When I first studied ASL, we learned several children's stories from within Deaf culture. For example, TRAIN STORY tells of a wild west train ambush, all by using the handshapes for the numbers 1-15 in order. (The first version of the story I learned, the white people surrender to the Native Americans. Later I learned a version in which the calvary swoops in and capture the Native Americans. Revisionist history?) We also did MAGIC POT to work on classifiers, using handshapes to illustrate size and motion. (Even without ASL, use your hands to show me the size & shape of a baseball. A basketball looks different, although it also is a ball. A high-bounce ball you'd probably only use one hand to show me the shape. A marble, maybe only two fingers.)
Meet Sheena. She's 4yo and Deaf-of-Deaf. She is Deaf and her mother is Deaf. (Approx 90% of Deaf people are born to hearing people.) (And when Deaf have a Deaf child, there is rejoicing to have a child who is "like us". Like recognizing a family nose.)

She tells Twas the Night Before Christmas in full ASL (her native language). Please read this article before you watch the video. It will help you appreciate the linguistic complexity of what this little girl is doing.

Thanks to Tim for the find!

P.S. This spring's CVHS musical is Children of Eden, a retelling of the Adam & Eve, and Noah's Ark stories. It is a Bible-as-literature version, not a Christian perspective. A lot of fun, but we'll set aside the theology of it. Interpreted matinee Tues 4/8/2014.


  1. Simply amazing. Thanks so much for posting this.

  2. What a delight - a natural storyteller. I was glad that you sent us to read the part on why it was so spectacular and learned a lot of nuances I'd have missed from my limited knowledge of ASL. Thanks for posting it, Lisa.