Poetry is one of those forms of expression that are faced at least once in a lifetime, forcedly at school or voluntarily in free time. Often the moment you come into contact with the first poem, you usually ask yourself: what is it for? What is its usefulness? In a world governed by the practicality of science, we will try to propose and assign a possible meaning to this art form, placing itself in an unusual perspective, that is, considering poetry in sign languages. what is it for? What is its usefulness? In a world governed by the practicality of science, we will try to propose and assign a possible meaning to this art form, placing itself in an unusual perspective, that is, considering poetry in sign languages. what is it for? What is its usefulness? In a world governed by the practicality of science, we will try to propose and assign a possible meaning to this art form, placing itself in an unusual perspective, that is, considering poetry in sign languages.
Sign languages: how are they made?
Before talking about poetry it is good to know a couple of linguistic notions on sign languages. Assuming that there are many languages in sign mode ( American Sign Language , British Sign Language , Italian Sign Language , etc …) and that these in themselves have no linguistic link with the vocal language of the relevant country, each language is formed and is analyzed through four parameters:
- the configuration of the hands (if the hands are open, closed, use of fingers …);
- the place in the space where the sign is made (at chin height, to the left of the trunk …);
- the orientation of the hands (if they are placed with the palm towards the interlocutor, towards the signer …);
- the movement (upwards, to the left …).
The image illustrates an example of the four parameters used to communicate the word mom . You can observe the simultaneity of the parameters that contribute to the formation of a sign
Each of the four parameters simultaneously contributes to the formation of a sign and characterizes it. This means that the variation of even one of the parameters involves the production of a different sign. It is also useful to underline the great importance that facial expressiveness, posture and orientation of the body denote, responsible, for example, for the realization of the interrogative and exclamatory form.
Style and meaning in sign language poetry
If you think of a written poem and the elements that make it up, two nouns could easily come to mind: style and meaning. “Style” means the use of strategies – mostly rhetorical sound figures – in order to achieve an aesthetic effect, while “meaning” refers to both the simple reference of the word to the object in reality, and to the more complex system of figures that make parallelisms, metaphors and references possible.
In sign languages, style and, in particular, meaning are rendered with a series of strategies that are more effective immediately. As for the style, for example, we often resort to the repetition of a specific parameter (an operation comparable to alliteration or assonance). As far as meaning is concerned, poetry in sign languages is characterized by a lower presence of metaphors, this is because it is already in itself a highly iconic language, which therefore presents a strong representativeness of the symbolized.
Iconicity in poetry in sign languages
On the other hand, sign language makes less use of metaphors. The mention of onomatopoeias and other phono-symbolic forms (which – as the word itself says – are all those expressions that tend to evoke, through their form, a sound) can be a starting point to make a comparison between one of the greatest Italian poets, famous precisely for the sound and synaesthetic use of the Italian language, or Giovanni Pascoli, related to a poem in ASL ( American Sign Language/ the locusts squatted / very fine silver sistri / (tinkles at invisible doors / which perhaps no longer open? …); / and there was that death cry … / chiù …
In the poem emerges redundant presence of onomatopoeia chiù to make the direction of the paisley and you can notice the various alliterations that allow, for example, to perceive the blowing of the wind between the leaves. Although the poem is masterfully written and induces the Italian language to extreme expressive possibilities, also given its modality, it can never match the immediacy and, we can add, the theatricality of the American sign language. A particular feature that emerges, moreover, from the vision of Caterpillar poetry is the mixture, or the deep bond that poetry in gestural mode manages to trigger with dance and rhythm, which can be defined as musical.
All this can take place thanks to the simultaneity of several visual components in the formation and use of a sign language, a process that cannot take place in an oral or written language, since it is always consequential.
What sense can we attribute to poetry
In praising the qualities of the gestural mode, the philosopher Giambattista Vico describes, perhaps unintentionally, what poetry is: it is a language able to get in touch with reality thanks to the creative ability of man. Making poetry therefore amounts to stripping oneself of the constraints of practicality, of the prefigured schemes of daily life to take full possession of one’s own imaginative faculty, to express one’s sentient being as truthfully and iconically as possible. It means looking for the most tangible part of yourself and the surrounding world, through the use of unexplored and unexpected communication ways. It means being part of a community that shares thoughts and situations and that has the opportunity, through art, to listen. And in this the “voice” of the deaf hovers above all others.
To learn more
- Russo Cardona, Tommaso; Volterra, Virginia (2018). Sign languages. History and semiotics . Rome: Carocci Editore.
- Sacks, Oliver; Sborgi, Carla (1991). See voices: a journey into the world of the deaf . Milan: Adelphi.
- Volterra, Virginia (2004). The Italian sign language. The visual-gestural communication of the deaf . Bologna: The Mill.