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What are norms of sign language poetry? Studies from sign language poetry anthologies and collections
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Linguistics, Sign Language.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0612-6304
2019 (English)Conference paper, Poster (with or without abstract) (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This research uses recent developments in online, digital collections and anthologies of sign language poetry to describe the poetic norms that govern the expectations of sign language poets and their audiences. We follow Toury’s idea of norms, as “the general values or ideas shared by a community […] appropriate for and applicable to particular situations, specifying what is prescribed and forbidden as well as what is tolerated and permitted in a certain behavioural dimension.” (1995: 55). Norms are particularly important to avoid prescriptivism, enabling researchers of sign language literature and poetry to describe what is currently considered good, and what has been considered good in different times and different communities, without prescribing how sign language poetry should be done. We draw on sign language poetry anthologies from three different sign languages to look at the language, literary and cultural norms underlying the poetry, in search of what may be considered “the best” in each culture. We find similarities and differences across the anthologies and their languages.

Anthologies of literary productions in sign languages are needed as a resource for research and teaching in sign language literary and linguistics and for translators and poets to develop their work. Early research on sign language poetry focused on the work of a small selection of poets, simply because that was all that was available for research purposes (for example Christie and Wilkins, 2007; Sutton-Spence, 2005, Crasborn 2006; Rose, 2006). Such limited materials enabled researchers to perform in-depth analyses of signed poetry and afforded great insights into the art form but could not give broader overviews of the range of norms existing in the poets’ communities.

Anthologies pre-suppose that their selected content is “the best” (Hopkins 2008), as considered by the community’s “expectancy norms” (Pym, 2010). Di Leo (2004) has noted that traditional views of anthologies require them to include work that has been published previously and has “stood the test of time”. Sign language anthologies rarely follow this maxim because of the recency of the art-form, and the collections used for this research include new material as well as previously published works. The relationship between canons and anthologies is also well-recognised (Guillory, 1993; Finke 2004), as anthologies reflect and create canons of literature.

We investigated the poems and literary performances in four online anthologies and collections of sign language literature in three countries (two in Brazilian Sign language, one in British Sign Language, and one in Swedish Sign Language). Although our primary interest was sign language poetry, we note (along with Peters 2000) that there is no watertight definition of a poem in sign language (or possibly in any language). One Brazilian anthology contains 35 poems by 21 poets, and the other contains 20 poems by 19 poets. There is no overlap in the content of poems, although several poets are represented in both. The British anthology contained 100 poems. The majority were by 9 individual poets, although three poems, being Renga poems were composed and performed by an additional 25 people. The Swedish collection contains 25 poems by 14 individual poets and also some collective Renga poems.

In our study, we find that the accepted and valued forms of sign language poetry are diverse, with a range of genres. Analysis of the poems found that some norms for sign language poems arise from within the wider literary world (for example signed haiku and renga), with varying degrees of adaptations (including duets and lyric poems), but some are specific to sign languages (such as multiple perspective poems, classifier poems and Visual Vernacular pieces). Basic concepts, such as how closely the poetry fits sign language grammar may be seen within the poems in the anthologies.

As Pym (2010) acknowledges, however, norms have a prescriptive undertone, given that work that does not adhere to the current norms may not be considered “good”. Difficult work (Shetley 1993) may be seen as deviating from the norm and thus risks not being included in anthologies and not being considered as material for research (which promotes poetic work considerably). Anthologies are traditionally seen as conservative phenomena (Gilbert and Guber, 1979). Knowing that norm-breaking leads to innovation and that poetry’s business is innovation, norms are in constant tension with the games that poets play, as new trends emerge. In the anthologies studied, we see evidence of new forms developing, and more established forms being created.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019.
Keywords [en]
sign language poetry, norm, sign language literature
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
Research subject
Sign Language
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-175352OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-175352DiVA, id: diva2:1362636
Conference
TISLR13, the 13th conference of Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research, Hamburg, Germany, 26-28 September, 2019
Available from: 2019-10-21 Created: 2019-10-21 Last updated: 2019-10-21Bibliographically approved

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