Metaphor in Creative Sign Language

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Sch of App Community and Health Studies

Abstract

Summary

The proposed research project will investigate the metaphorical operations that contribute to the artistic effects of creative language in British Sign Language. While a certain amount of interest in the subject has been generated in diverse fields such as linguistics, literary criticism, and Deaf studies, no attempt has been made to put together the knowledge from these fields to form a coherent piece of academic research. Our project will centralise the issue of metaphor in creative sign language, bringing together a range of perspectives from different academic disciplines.

The main areas of research within the study will be:

1. The formal properties of metaphors in creative signing

What are the language elements which contribute to our metaphorical understanding of particular expressions and overall themes of the poems/stories?
We will specifically look at the following formal features in BSL: handshape, eyegaze, use of space, and blending.

2. Iconicity and metaphor

Iconicity plays a crucial role in the formation of metaphors in creative signing. Many expressions in BSL poems and stories make use of metaphors based on visual iconicity to deliver intended message. We will investigate how iconicity and metaphor are interrelated to enhance the poetic effect.

3. Embodiment in creative signing

The fact that signers use their body and face constrains and motivates certain metaphorical associations. Particularly, the phenomenon of anthropomorphism is salient in creative signing. This project will be the first piece of research which will fully investigate anthropomorphism in sign language literature.

4. Neologisms

In studying creative signing, it is essential to understand the formation of new, original signs. The project will address the metaphorical motivations behind the mechanism of neologism.

The questions addressed in this project require multidisciplinary research methods (combining linguistic analysis of the collected data and textual analysis).
The research project will also aims at producing the large-scale corpus of signed poems and stories. The project will be conducted in conjunction with British Deaf poets.

Publications

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Donna Jo Napoli (2010) Limitations on simultaneity in sign language in Language

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Kaneko M (2011) Alliteration in Culture

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Kaneko M (2012) Iconicity and Metaphor in Sign Language Poetry in Metaphor and Symbol

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Mathur, Gaurav; Napoli, Donna Jo (2011) Deaf Around the World: The Impact of Language

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Pfau, Roland; Steinbach, Markus; Woll, Bencie (2012) Sign Language: An International Handbook

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Pfau, Roland; Steinbach, Markus; Woll, Bencie (2012) Sign Language: An International Handbook

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Rachel Sutton-Spence (Author) (2010) The Role of Sign Language Narratives in Developing Identity for Deaf Children in Journal of Folklore Research

 
Title Bristol Sign Poetry Festival 2010 
Description This event was held at the Bristol Deaf Club to a sell-out audience of over 200 members of the Deaf community and their hearing friends and family. The event was organised by the research team as part of the project and funded through project funds. Poems that had been created specifically as a result of meetings facilitated by the project were performed by three of the 'regular' poets in the project and a guest poet from Sweden. Members of the deaf community who were attending the poetry workshop of that weekend also performed their creations. These performances were filmed and the work of the professional poets put up on the project's on-line anthology, and the work of the workshop participants was put on You Tube. The 'other' language in the category below reflects that these poems were in British Sign Language Please note that there was no 'primary contributor' to this event in a meaningful sense as the performance was a collaborative event between the poets and workshop participants. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
 
Title Bristol Sign Poetry Festival 2011 
Description This event was held at the Bristol Deaf Club to a sell-out audience of over 200 members of the Deaf community and their hearing friends and family. The event was organised by the research team as part of the project and funded through project funds. Poems that had been created specifically as a result of meetings facilitated by the project were performed by two of the 'regular' poets in the project and a guest poet from London. Members of the deaf community who were attending the poetry workshop of that weekend also performed their creations. These performances were filmed and the work of the professional poets put up on the project's on-line anthology, as was the work of the workshop participants The 'other' language in the category below reflects that these poems were in British Sign Language Please note that there was no 'primary contributor' to this event in a meaningful sense as the performance was a collaborative event between the poets and workshop participants. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
 
Title Bristol Sign Poetry Festival 2012 
Description This event was held at the Bristol Deaf Club to an audience of the Deaf community and their hearing friends and family. The event was organised by the research team as part of the project and funded through project funds. Poems that had been created specifically as a result of meetings facilitated by the project were performed by three of the 'regular' poets in the project. Members of the deaf community who were attending the poetry workshop of that weekend also performed their creations. These performances were filmed and the work of the professional poets put up on the project's on-line anthology, as was the work of the workshop participants The 'other' language in the category below reflects that these poems were in British Sign Language Please note that there was no 'primary contributor' to this event in a meaningful sense as the performance was a collaborative event between the poets and workshop participants. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
 
Title Deaf Learning - as it was, is now and could be 
Description A Twilight Event - run by the Graduate School of Education at Bristol University for public engagement with our research. Three poets from our project performed poems from the project and discussed deaf learning. The language used was British Sign Language 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
 
Title Signing Hands Across the Water 
Description An international festival of sign language poetry at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA. The four project poets from the UK joined three American Sign Language Poets - two from the USA and one currently living in Sweden - for three days of workshops, discussions, conversations and performance in front of audiences from the American Deaf community, the college community and hearing friends and interested parties. This event was co-funded by the Cooper Foundation for Performing Arts but was organised by the Project Team 'Other' here selected for 'language' reflects that the UK poets performed in BSL and International Signing and the American poets performed in American Sign Language and International Signing. There was no primary contributor as all contributed equally to the performance. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
 
Description Sign language poets use the human form to create strong visual images, leading to strong emotional impact. Some poets use less metaphor, using iconicity and visual motivation to prioritise realistic descriptions and narrative over metaphor; others used visual elements to blend real and imagined spaces, and create beautiful complex metaphors at conceptual, linguistic and thematic levels.

We collected over 100 poems to make the world's largest annotated on-line sign language poetry anthology. The size of our anthology allowed us to make generalisations, and study unique individual metaphors. However, the strong visual and gestural elements of poetry made measurements or statistical analysis unreliable; while we could observe 'tendencies', fundamentals like 'lexical items' were hard to determine in the complex visual creations.

The poems' themes and metaphors often related to deafness, deaf characters and deaf-related issues such as education, sign language and cochlear implants. General themes such as bravery or love also occurred, often revealed through deaf people's world experiences of sight and touch.

Poets frequently took on the role of human characters, creating strong emotions. This characterisation was also the key to anthropomorphism, which occurred extensively and was a dominant trope in the anthology, bringing the form of the human body to the forefront. Poets enjoyed creating it and audiences enjoyed watching it. We found degrees of anthropomorphism: just being a human who has taken on the character of a non-human is a form of anthropomorphism, but non-human objects were given increasingly human forms and behaviours. Animals were most popularly anthropomorphised and often given the power of language; inanimate objects were frequently shown to have emotions and desires; abstract concepts were usually treated as entirely human. Non-physical concepts were mapped onto physical space through blending (e.g. identity, shame or a nation took physical forms as people, animals or objects). Highly abstract ideas were usually expressed through extended metaphors throughout a poem.

Handshapes do contribute significantly to poetic effect. However, the effect is often specific to the poetic context; the same underlying metaphor can be realised by different handshapes (something positive could be shown by an open 'giving' hand or a closed 'solid, reliable' fist) and the same handshape can represent different metaphors (a fist can add a closed, hard, negative sense or a solid strength in a positive sense).

The spatial arrangement of signs often reflects orientational metaphor, at the individual sign level and at higher levels of direct metaphor. For example, contrasting up-down, and central-peripheral in the signing space gave connotations of GOOD IS UP, and CENTRAL IS EMOTIONALLY CLOSE. Left-right was not used metaphorically, as handedness and ease of articulation were more important. Gaze directions often promote positive and negative ideas, or show power relationships between two characters. Gaze also reveals other metaphors such as KNOWING IS SEEING or IMPORTANT IS VISIBLE.

The poems were rich in neologisms. Characterisation led to highly gestural signs never seen before, as they depended on the forms chosen for the character. Newly created 'entity' and 'size and shape' classifier signs were motivated by metaphor, although iconicity and the overall formal structure of the poem also motivated them.
Exploitation Route This research has enormous potential for impact within the Deaf community. The very existence of the anthology created as part of the project advances the status of the art-form and its content promotes and validates the work of under-appreciated artists. It can encourage other signing poets to produce their own work, nationally and internationally, inspired by this. It can inform and influence the work of spoken language poets and visual artists. It can be used in schools for deaf and hearing children to see the potential of sign language for creative expression. It can be used by language learners and also by sign language/spoken language interpreters. The ideas and findings generated from the research and the experiences gained by the poets working together and training signers in the art of poetry can all lead to the social and cultural pleasures and satisfaction that come with creation and appreciation of good poetry.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Leisure Activities/ including Sports/ Recreation and Tourism

URL http://www.bristol.ac.uk/bslpoetryanthology
 
Description In poetry and folklore festivals
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Collaboration with Swedish partner 
Organisation Stockholm University
Country Sweden 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project funding allowed us to develop closer working relations with Dr Johanne Mesch at the University of Stockholm. She took part in a poetry performance, we co-worked with her on a conference presentation, and we submitted a joint publication with her.
Start Year 2009
 
Description University Lives - Part of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law's "Identities" research theme. 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The 'Identities' research theme at the University of Bristol was investigating the attitude to the university by community members who often feel excluded by the institution. We worked with this theme as part of the 2011 Bristol poetry festival, specifically asking poets and participants to think about their relationship to the university in their composition. Poets' responses were analysed and fed into the theme network group. We also pioneered the 'World Cafe' approach to research being used by the faculty theme network using it for a signed poetry workshop. Poets and participants circulated, moving in an ordered way to see each-other's work, developing and building on each aspect they saw.
Start Year 2010
 
Description BBC See Hear 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Discussion of sign language poetry on BBC See Hear television programme

As a result of our web presence the BBC contacted me to do an interview in relation to the life of the BSL poet Dorothy Miles. See Hear is a weekly BBC television programme for the British Deaf community. I was able to talk about our research and use our
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Bristol Sign Poetry Festivals and Workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Three consecutive annual Sign Language Poetry Festivals, incorporating one or two day workshops for Deaf people (UK and worldwide) to learn about BSL poetry, and an evening performance to the local Deaf community by established Deaf poets (UK/Europe).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Lecture course using material based on the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Course on sign language literature and metaphor delivered to undergraduate students at Swarthmore College, PA, USA

14 week weekly course introducing undergraduate students at Swarthmore college to signed poetry and the metaphor in it
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Lecture course using material based on the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact One week course delivered to Deaf Masters-level students at the Federal University of Santa Catarina at Florianopolis, Brazil



This was delivered in Brazilian Sign Language - under the 'other' category of language below

This 5-day course concerned sign language poetry and creativity, drawing on the materials collected and analysis conducted on it as part of the project. The students were studying for a Masters degree in Deaf Studies, and almost all deaf.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Lecture using material based on the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Open, invited lecture delivered to staff and students at Swarthmore College and members of the Deaf community on metaphorical use of space in signed poetry

In preparation for a longer visit to Swarthmore in 2011, I was invited to this talk on my way to the TISLR conference in Indiana, making good use of travel funds. Sign language interpreters were provided to allow access to American deaf people - one of wh
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Presentation using material based on the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Invited lecture to Haverford College, explaining the difference between British and American Deaf communities, including discussion of their different folklores and literatures, drawing on project work
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Presentation using material based on the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Lecture to staff and student members of Swarthmore College, Haverford College and Bryn Mawr, in Pennsylvania, USA on influence on the form of the human body on selection and production of signed metaphor

This talk was part of the tri-co faculty lecture series, given in my role as invited Cornell Professor to Swarthmore College.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Presentation using material based on the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Exploration of British Sign Language Poetry, drawing on materials and findings from the project, aimed at undergraduate students at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, at Rochester, New York.



The language of presentation was American Sign Language

This talk was a major opportunity to disseminate the findings from the project to some of the leading Deaf academics and their students in the field at this very influential Deaf academic instituion. NTID at Rochester Institute for Technology has led Amer
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Presentation using material based on the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact 'The Deaf Nation in Two Nations' presented to staff and students at Gallaudet University, Washington DC. Presentation showing the creativity of BSL



The language was American Sign Language

This talk was a major opportunity to disseminate the findings from the project to some of the leading Deaf and hearing academics and their students in the field at this very influential Deaf academic instituion. It provided an important opportunity to re
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Presentation using material based on the project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Open presentation at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester, NY, on anthropomorphism in sign language poetry.



This was presented in American Sign Language

This talk was a major opportunity to disseminate the findings from the project to some of the leading Deaf poets, academics and their students in the field at this very influential Deaf academic instituion. NTID at Rochester Institute for Technology has l
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Sign Language Poetry - A visual Art form 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Presentation to staff and students at the University of Basel, Switzerland,

Lecture to staff and students familiar with some sign language but not with signed poetry
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Sign Language Poetry: A Visual Language Art Form 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact Lecture to staff, students and members of the public at Bordeaux 3 university

Lecture to staff and students, sign language interpreters and other members of the public at Bordeaux 3 university. Students were studying linguistics, literature and semiotics
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Visit from the Korean Youth with Disabilities International Study Program 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience
Results and Impact The Korean Youth with Disabilities International Study Program organised by Mr Gyeong-Hoon Ha of Seoul National University, visited to learn more about sign language poetry and specifically metaphor in creative sign language. Ten university students and lecturers, including three who were deaf or hard-of-hearing, were collaborating partners in the 'Korean Association for the Disabled's Creative Writing'. The event was filmed by a Korean television company.



Languages were English, Korean, British Sign Language and Korean Sign Language

Rachel Sutton-Spence and BSL poet Paul Scott met the group of university students and lecturers, including three who were deaf from the 'Korean Association for the Disabled's Creative Writing'. We presented work of the project, Paul performed and explai
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012