Poetics of sign language Poetry

Although sign languages around the world have been around for the past thousands of years, William Stokoe of Gallaudet University first published linguistics of ASL in the 1960s. Research in ASL linguistics and published ASL literature has quickly grown since then. Dr. Clayton Valli, the forebear of ASL poetry, embarked his research on ASL poetry in his doctoral dissertation in the 1980s.


Dictionaries generally defined "rhyme" as "correspondence in terminal sounds or words". As this definition may be influenced by a phonocentric view, this term rhyme can be redefined to as "correspondence in terminal spoken sounds, written words, or signed words. A feature of the rhyme is the repetition of a particular sound, alphabetical letters, or a signed aspect.

Valli had identified some rhymes in sign language, such as movement path, handshape, and non-manual markers.


Valli paralleled the concept of handshape rhyme to the concept of alliteration. He described it, "Alliteration may be the repetition of the first sound of several words in a line, compared to the handshape rhyme, that is, the repetition of the handshape of several signs in a line." [Clayton, p. 113]

Other features

Rhythm is the movement of hands, such as speed (slow-fast continuum) and pause. Meter is the pattern of stressed syllables.


Valli, Clayton. Poetics of American Sign Language Poetry. Doctoral dissertation, The Union Institute Graduate School. June 1993.

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