SASL Journal Vol. 1, No. 1 - Page 67

ASL Literature Byrne Language is the medium of literature as marble or bronze or clay are the materials of the sculptor. Since every language has its distinctive peculiarities, the innate formal limitations – and possibilities – of one literature are never quite the same as those of another. The literature fashioned out of the form and substance of a language has the color and the texture of its matrix. The literary artist may never be conscious of just how he is hindered or helped or otherwise guided by the matrix, but when it is a question of translating his work into another language, the nature of the original matrix manifests itself at once. All his effects have been calculated, or intuitively felt, with reference to the formal “genius” of his own language; they cannot be carried over without loss or modification. Interestingly, a majority of ASL and Deaf Studies experts interviewed in the author’s doctoral dissertation believe that English-influenced rhymes of poetry (e.g., alphabetical handshape or ABC stories, worded handshape or name stories, and initialized handshape) should not be part of ASL literature. One reasoned that, for these rhymes, “the language of origin is English.” This is followed with the statement that “the production and use of handshapes is awkward because the handshapes do not follow ASL rules”. Another commented, “ABC stories are a bastardized form of ASL and English”. Another explained the motivation related to English- influenced rhymes, especially alphabetical handshape rhyme: [Administrators and educators] in deaf education always feel the need to connect [deaf] children to English culture. How do they do that? Through assimilation. It occurs when they make an attempt to internalize [deaf] children with [English] literature. One of the ASL and Deaf Studies experts who objected to the motivation behind the English-influenced rhymes recalled a conversation she had with a deaf ASL poet who enlightened her about the relevance of ASL rhymes as follows: I asked him why he had never created English-influenced handshape rhymes. He reservedly shook his head and gave no explanation for it. However, he explained a bit that he would like to challenge [us] to create poems using closed handshape rhyme, open handshape rhyme, double handshape rhyme, movement rhyme, location rhyme, palm orientation rhyme, non-manual signal rhyme, and handedness rhyme [which are entirely ASL]. I sensed from conversing with him that, as compared to the English-influenced rhymes, deaf children could easily connect to these rhymes because they are naturally embedded with their own [signed language-based] culture. Translating works from English to ASL is acceptable as long as they are categorized as English literature, not ASL literature. For example, Sign Media, Inc., a video producing company in the United States, created a DVD set of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, which includes The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, and The Adventure of the Red-Headed League. Originally published in English and translated into ASL, the set should be catalogued under the genre of mysteries under English literature. The same holds true for original works written in English by deaf or hearing writers about deaf people and their life experiences. SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017 67