The Cracked Pot: a Retelling in ASL

A tale from India is retold in ASL (American Sign Language).

English version / translation

Once upon a time, there was an old man who lives in a small village. This old man worked every morning as a water bearer, carrying two large pots hung on a yoke across his shoulders. He carried them back and forth between the house and the water site. One of the pots has a crack in it and the other one has no imperfections.

Every early morning, the man carried the pots on a yoke across his shoulders and walked towards the water site. On his way, there were flowers along the path on his left side and dried grass on the right side. As he arrived at the water site, he filled up two pots to the rim. Then, he turned around and walked on his way back. The cracked pot leaked water all the way back home. The perfect pot always delivered a full portion of water and the cracked one always had only half full. This went on the same every day for about two years.

The perfect pot was proud of its fine job. But the cracked pot felt let down, sad, and guilty of its flaw. It spoke to the water bearer, "I only could deliver only half-empty of water. I'm unhappy about it and wouldn't wish to continue my work.

The water bearer was taken back and said in his compassion, "Oh, don't worry. See there are flowers only on your side of the path where the other side only has dried grass. Know why? From time to time, I planted the seeds on your side of the path because I know you water them along the way. They grew because of the water you leaked. I've gathered some of these flowers and brought them home. The flowers brighten up the house with joy. It's all because of you."

The cracked pot smiled with a relief and it felt content. It is grateful for the insight.

Grammar tips

Gloss: long-ago small village in-this-area old man lives IX-there...

English: once upon a time there was an old man who lives in a small village...

This is an example of the story opener. It describes the scene or setting (space and time) in the beginning of the story.

Both ASL and English similarly begin with the time. Notice that in English, the triangular structure is /\ -- from foreground (man) to background (village), whereas in ASL, its structure is \/ -- from background (village) to foreground (man).

Classifier phrases

Some examples of the classifiers (and types of classifier) are: pots / descriptive, locative CL (0:15); a yoke / descriptive, locative CL (0:16); a person walking / semantic CL (0:27); flowers / plural, locative, descriptive classifier (0:31); grasses / plural, locative, descriptive classifier (0:33); leak / locative, elemental classifier (0:45-46);

Role shifting

ASL grammar role shifting

At 1:13, the storyteller turns her head, eye gaze, and shoulder which indicates that it's the cracked pot that is speaking to the water bearer, "I only could deliver..."

The storyteller turns in the opposite direction that the water bearer now is speaking to the cracked pot (1:26-1:51). At 1:52, the teller returns to the narrator position.


Moral: "Each of us has our own unique 'cracks' or flaws that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. And look for the good in them."