American Sign Language: Poetry and Storytelling

Of the many languages offered at Clements, ASL is one of the smaller classes. While at first glance ASL could only be seen as the language of the deaf, looking closer displays the beauty and complexity of the language. 

Being Deaf means having hearing loss, but also being a part of a small, close-knit community with unique culture, traditions, and language. Individuals who consider themselves culturally deaf capitalize the word deaf when referring to themselves or others who identify the same way. ASL, or American Sign Language, is used by the Deaf and hard of hearing to communicate. It is its own language and has its own grammatical structure. In addition, it has its own format for storytelling and poetry. 

There are many different ways you can tell a story in ASL. Some of these include one-handshape stories, ABC stories, and number stories. 

Each sign in ASL has specific handshapes it uses. A one-handshape story uses a single handshape, possibly with slight hand modifications, to tell the story. Any handshape can be used but some are more common or easier than others.

ex. “Get Ready” by Julia Amsler

ABC stories use the handshape of the alphabet in order when telling the story, or spell out a word using handshapes while telling the story. For example, a signer telling a story about a rabbit would spell out the word rabbit, and tell the story by using each letter’s handshape in order. 

ex. “Playtime” by Ashley Hernandez

Number stories are like ABC stories, but instead of letter handshapes, they use number handshapes. These stories usually go from 1-15 or 1-20. They can also go backwards from 20-1 or 15-1.

Handshape examples:

While stories told in ASL can usually be translated, ASL poetry is too complex and reliant on the visuals to be written. Most of the grammar and tone in ASL comes from facial expressions which includes eyebrows placement, mouth morphing, and other expressions. With the lack of visuals in written poetry, ASL poetry can only be fully understood by watching it.

ex. “Dandelions” by Clayton Valli