Rhymes and rhythms in American Sign Language (ASL)

A rhyme is a repetition of similar or the same sounds in two or more words, usually in the last syllables of lines in poems and songs (e.g. cough, dough, rough, through, etc.). Or the beginning sounds of the words (alliteration) such as dog, done, donkey, dough, etc.

How do rhyme and rhythm work in sign language? In phonology (the study of the smallest units of language), the parts of a signed word are: handshape, location, palm orientation, movement, and non-manual signal. They are called parameters. Each parameter has a number of primes.

In sign language specifically ASL, the same parameter in two or more words (signs) are repeated. The parts may be the same handshape, movement, and/or location, or combined, but the handshape rhyme is the most commonly used.

An example of the ASL rhyme is: WHITE WOLF GONE or WHITE+ WOLF+ GONE+. These three ASL words or signs have the same handshape as well as movement.

Leala Holcomb and Jonathan McMillan presented a brief introduction to ASL rhymes and rhythms with a few examples.

Austin Andrews gives some more explanation.

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