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How Do You Rhyme in Sign Language?

A conversation at dinner with the kids left me wanting to know how to rhyme in sign language and when I found out, it feels like it should have been obvious.

In phonology (the study of the smallest units of language), the parts of a signed word are: handshape, location, palm orientation, movement, and non-manual signal. They are called parameters. Each parameter has a number of primes. In sign language specifically ASL, the same parameter in two or more words (signs) are repeated. The parts may be the same handshape, movement, and/or location, or combined, but the handshape rhyme is the most commonly used.

This explanation of how to rhyme diddle and fiddle in ASL is illustrative.

And here’s an example of ASL poetry where you can clearly see the rhymes and music of the words in her poem. The poet, Christine Marshall, didn’t caption the poem and suggested viewers suggest a translation in the comments. The pinned translation is below.

“Deaf Heart by Christine Marshall
A heartbeat pounds, within me strong
A beat consistent, as a song
But singing yet, does not appease
The world around me, just a tease
They talk, they chat, they have a spat
Without a sound, imagine that!
My heartbeat now, the only tone
I sit, I stare, I’m all alone
The beat it fades, a somber dirge
Then a shocking, shaking surge
My eyes are struck, my senses peaked
I’ve never seen a sight so sweet
A language without metronome
A language I can call my own
These people my experiences share
My whole life passing, unaware
All this time in quiet space
All alone and out of place
Now my heart is torn in two
“Who am I?”, or “I AM WHO?”
I know my heart has made it clear
My reservations disappear
I give myself to their embrace
To ASL my saving grace
My heart beats on and on in me
My heart is Deaf, and now I see”

See also, Jason’s post about ASL ‘Lose Yourself’, ASL Hamilton, and translating music.

Discussion  2 comments

Elaine V

Song For A Whale, a middle school level book, is about Deaf culture, includes a rhyming game, and is an awesome read.

Aaron CohenMOD

Got a drive coming up in a few weeks and need a book to listen to with the kids, thank you!

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