Does sign language have anything like a rhyme?
April 30, 2004 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Does the concept of "rhyme" exist in sign language?

That's a bit too vague - I know the concept exists, but I'm curious about examples, and whether it can be defined as directly as it can in verbal and (to a lesser extent) written language.
posted by freebird to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
(piggybacking) And are there rhyming signs?
posted by amberglow at 11:01 AM on April 30, 2004

Further, is there a concept of visual rhyming and/or puns? By using signs that look similar to one another?
posted by falconred at 11:04 AM on April 30, 2004

Try ASL Poetry.
posted by brownpau at 11:16 AM on April 30, 2004

Somewhat off-topic, but I read somewhere that there are rhymes in whale songs.
posted by grumblebee at 11:24 AM on April 30, 2004

falconred: There's a scene in Ridicule in which a group of kids from a school for the deaf impress members of the French court with a "play on signs."
posted by alphanerd at 11:33 AM on April 30, 2004

Response by poster: I saw the Geogetown site, but unless I'm missing something there's not a whole lot there.

And yeah, I'm also curious about slang and puns too.
posted by freebird at 12:18 PM on April 30, 2004

There are different kinds of plays on words, but rhyming as a sound assonance doesn't translate. For some more interesting information on how people translate rhyming English into ASL, you can check out the ASL Shakespeare Project. You can watch some little movies of it here. The ASL Shakespeare people had this to say about rhyming:
The process of translating from print to sign is a lesson in the art of communication and the communication of art, according to Novak. It is also a process fraught with challenges that test the limits of imagination and ingenuity, he says.

"The most difficult part is rhyming," explains Novak, noting that rhyme is by definition a similarity of sounds, a concept that is inherently foreign to sign language. The way out of the paradox, he explains, is to find close visual images to translate the text. Sometimes, it can take hours to come up with just the right adaptation, he notes.

Double-entendre and irony, however, lend themselves more handily to sign language, according to Novak. In Twelfth Night, for example, the character Malvolio fantasizes about being a count and passing the time by playing with "some rich jewel," which carries a sexual innuendo. To render that speech into sign language, the translators arrive at a sequence of gestures that convey both literal and connoted meaning, which is subtle and suggestive without being crude.
posted by jessamyn at 12:24 PM on April 30, 2004

From the ASL Browser thread on MetaFilter:

posted by terrapin at 12:33 PM on April 30, 2004

There certainly are 'rhyming' signs in ASL. While the specific definition of a rhyme (matching the last sound of a word) doesn't carry over, certain signs match on different parameters.

In ASL, there are a handful of parameters that define a 'word'. These include: handshape (the way the fingers and wrist are shaped and articulated), location (where it is signed, ie, in neutral space, in front of the body, or on a certain part of the body, be it head or arm or whatever), movement (which can involve changing locations), and non-manual grammatical signalling (facial gestures which denote certain grammatical or semantic meaning).

So, if two shapes are 'matched' on one of those parameters in a noticeable way, they can be said to rhyme. Likewise, certain very iconic or unique signs can be 'rhymed' with nonword gestures. For example, a certain trick played on beginning (hearing) signers is to replace the flicking first finger of UNDERSTAND with the middle finger. While the location, movement and articulation of UNDERSTAND with a middle finger doesn't actually correlate with a word, it serves to mesh the patronizing 'do you get it?' with the 'screw you' traditionally associated with the middle finger gesture. If a beginning signer doesn't catch the finger articulation, he'll dumbly nod along, thinking, 'yep, I understand,' while the Deaf signer will be thinking 'idiot hearing person.'

So: short answer: yes, there is rhyming in sign. As is there metaphor, figures of speech, cursing and a host of fascinating linguistic constructions found in few other languages.
posted by Eldritch at 9:28 PM on April 30, 2004

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