LINGUIST List 6.358

Sat 11 Mar 1995

Misc: Sign Singing, Grasshopper Mind

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Sign Singing
  2. wachal robert s, Re: 6.290 Sum: Grasshopper Mind

Message 1: Sign Singing

Date: Thu, 23 Feb 1995 08:45:28 Sign Singing
From: <>
Subject: Sign Singing

The discussion of Sign Singing has been most interesting, and I got to hear
from a long lost friend, Marina McIntire.

Adding some additional points of view:

The trouble with "Sign Singing" is that it can be an attempt to put deaf
people into a context which is that of hearing people, where they are not
comfortable or at a disadvantage, and as indicated by earlier messages, will
of necessity distort the proper grammar and other structures of American Sign
Language or other sign languages in non-artistic ways.

However, there *are* some similar things which are truly matters of deaf
culture, and they should be mentioned.

While musical pitch is not easily accessible to many deaf people, rhythm is
accessible. Deaf people naturally use rhythm along with movement, light,
etc. it in artistic signing, including poetry generated entirely within sign
language (i.e. not as translation from spoken language). One can have
artistic and esthetic discussions of sign poetry, and opinions can be as
varied about this as about any other form of art. I remember noticing how
very much some of Clayton Valli's signing was like French Impressionist
painting, in its use of rhythms and light. (Yes, I see rhythms in painting
too. Don't you?)

Poetry can have repetition, variation, and all sorts of patterns which occur
in spoken poetry without depending in any way on sound (it is a challenge to
our gut perceptions and to our analytical abilities both, to see these
parallels and to understand that concepts we regard as linked to sound need
not be so linked). One of the better-known American deaf poets is Clayton
Valli, but there are many others, and any skilled signer uses poetic devices
from time to time just as any skilled speaker does.

It is quite conceivable that something in the future might exist which we
would want to call "Sign Songs" which would not be translations from spoken,
which would involve no sound, and which would be entirely appropriate to and
generated within the deaf community. The problem with the term is it
operates as an invitation to the well-meaning hearing person to bring some
distorted representation of hearing people's singing into a less than fully
appropriate context.

I have also witnessed an excess of "political correctness" in these matters.
 Some hearing students in one of Clayton Valli's classes years ago got up on
a very high horse claiming that any discussion of rhythm was inappropriate
and forcing hearing people's concerns onto deaf people. On the contrary,
rhythm depends on time, not at all on sound. It can even, I believe, depend
on spatial patterned arrangement, though that may be pushing the term too far
and we may need another term. But recurring patterns in textiles or any
other medium can certainly be reasonably said to have a "rhythm".

Just as with any other "difference", it is possible to stereotype it, to
exaggerate it, and to artificially separate people from each other, defining
them more by their differences than by their similarities. That can run the
danger of putting the people regarded as "different" into a kind of zoo cage,
subjects of analysis rather than colleagues in the experience of life.
 Different people will have different political interests in such matters at
different times. This is not unique to deaf-hearing contacts.

Sincerely, Lloyd Anderson
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 6.290 Sum: Grasshopper Mind

Date: Fri, 24 Feb 1995 06:48:29 Re: 6.290 Sum: Grasshopper Mind
From: wachal robert s <>
Subject: Re: 6.290 Sum: Grasshopper Mind

The term was used in ads in the American magazine POPULAR SCIENCE during
the 1940's. I don't recall what they were selling..probably something to
improve one's powers of concentration.
Bob Wachal
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue