American Sign Language: An Exploration
My interest during my MFA degree has been in language and the evolution of language. During my research, I came across a written form for American Sign Language (ASL). Reading about written sign language made me think that these symbols are used to make more than just an alphabet; they are used to create a community and bring people together.
I read how the deaf community did not really have books written specifically for them. To me, this was a disconnect from their daily lives, where they used their hands and body language to communicate. Others must have thought the same and created the written sign language, which uses symbols that represent the body hand movements of signed languages. After reading the following quote from the sign writing website, I was inspired to work with the existing written symbols;
“SignWriting makes it possible to have books, newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, and literature written in signs. It can be used to teach signs and signed language grammar to beginning signers...”
English literature has vast expressiveness embedded in it, and there are endless possibilities to have non-linear narrative formats, which seems to be missing in the written ASL. My question regarding the written sign language was on its expressiveness. I used one of the provocations provided to us during the process (Drake) and applied that to create rapper signs which can be used in social media or text messaging. In my opinion, trying to insert pop/rap culture into new additions to the existing ASL will help deaf teens to be more confident and have their very own communication systems.
Initial Idea and Process
Initially, I started creating forms that represent the tone of voice, whether it is a shy, sarcastic, or ironic tone. In addition, I added some hashtag words in order to try to appeal to social media users. Though these exercises were useful in helping me understand some of the nuances of written ASL, I thought that there was an opportunity to incorporate another cultural element to have a more meaningful outcome.
During my research, I came across some instructions for rapper hand gestures. Since both ASL and rapper gestures used hand movements to convey messages, it seemed appropriate to combine them into creating new symbols that can be used by deaf teenagers.