SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 68

Vindication for ASL Literature Supalla A commentary on Valli's 1990 manuscript, "The Nature of a Line in ASL Poetry" A Vindication for ASL Literature Samuel J. Supalla University of Arizona Almost three decades have passed since Clayton Valli's 1990 publication of "The Nature of a Line in ASL Poetry". I am delighted to comment on this article and its relevance and impact on our understanding of 'oral' compositions in deaf people's language, ASL. I need to take a step back and discuss the bigger picture of Deaf/ASL Studies as a field. This will help me with reviewing Valli's work for the benefit of readers. ASL was and still is subject to social bias, owing to its prevalence in the signed language modality. The term "audism" is helpful for understanding society and its perception of the superiority of spoken language. While many would assume that all scholars in the ASL/Deaf Studies field would support and place ASL first and foremost, the contrary is true. This includes what I will call Deaf First (vs. ASL First) which undermines ASL as a language, including its literary domain. This results in a clash of ideologies that is distracting for scholars. Valli's publication falls into the ASL First ideology, which is consistent with my own thinking. The distinction between the Deaf First and ASL First ideologies can be made by how deaf people are viewed as a group. According to the Deaf First ideology, deaf people are treated as a distinctive group, which may be valid. However, it seems that some scholars gain this viewpoint on the basis of deaf people's 'peculiarity'. Deafness becomes deaf people's overriding quality. Any idea of associating deaf people with hearing people based on commonalities and differences would be met with negativity. The ASL First ideology, on the other hand, promotes a humanistic viewpoint of deaf people as signers. Deaf people continue to have their own identity with an emphasis on human qualities, including language. In this sense, Valli's paper focuses on understanding deaf people as human beings. This includes Valli's discussion of "the results of an in-depth study of the nature of a line in ASL poetry in terms of poetic and linguistic analyses" (p. 171). Valli made an important contribution to ASL poetry when he argued in his paper that poetic lines could be identified in the signed language modality. Valli used two poems in ASL, "Snowflake" (that he created himself) and "Circle of Life" as performed by Ella Mae Lentz, to collect this data. Both Valli and Lentz are culturally deaf and are known for performing live in front of audiences over the years. The poetic works of Valli and Lentz are also published through video format. Valli relied on the detailed ASL notation system developed by linguists Scott K. Liddell and Robert Johnson. The intricate transcription of lines in action for ASL poems shows the rhyming phenomenon for the first time. Valli was able to compare his findings with well- known English poems that include rhyming, "Atlanta in Claydon" by Algernon Charles Swinburne and "Virginia" by T. S. Eliot. Unfortunately, Valli's paper failed to impress some scholars and drew a rebuttal from one scholar, H-Dirksen L. Bauman. Bauman wrote a chapter, "Getting Out of Line: Toward a Visual and Cinematic Poetics of ASL", which was published in his own edited book, Signing the Body Poetic: Essays on American Sign Language Literature. This book was released in 2006 with a SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 68