Storytelling in American Sign Language (ASL)

Storytelling is the old-age art of telling a story. It can be found in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, and/or preservation of the culture.

Like every language and culture, signed storytelling is one of the oldest cultural traditions. Signed stories are passed on verbally (not spoken but signed, like orally) from generation to generation, till the advent of video technology as a written form in the 1970s or 1980s and onwards.

Literary Devices and Elements

Like vocal-auditory (spoken) and written languages, there are different styles of articulation in visual-manual (signed) languages. For example, a signing style in ASL storytelling for children is different from a style for adults.

ASL storytelling and poetry employ literary devices and elements that are some familiar as found in spoken literature and some unique as signing is a visual-temporal-spatial medium. Some Deaf storytellers, filmmakers, and artists use unique devices integrating language (e.g. ASL) with visual-spatial mediums (e.g. video).

Cinematic Nature of Sign Language

ASL storytelling in video

Language in a visual-temporal-spatial-kinetic dimension (that is, sign language) allows a storyteller produce a richly imaginative cinematic-like narrative, using cinematic vocabulary in addition to other grammatical features and devices.

The Benefits of ASL storytelling

ASL storytelling has several benefits for language development, language learning, entertainment, etc.

Language development: Storytelling helps expand one's vocabulary building in children's language acquisition L1 (first language) and ASL students' language acquisition (second language). It helps ASL students learn sentence structure.

Listening and verbal communication skills: Engaging storytelling expands listener's listening skills and comprehension. It increases verbal proficiency. (The words "verbal" and "listening" have nothing to do with sound or speech! "Verbal" simply means non-written.)

Thinking and problem solving skills: Storytelling helps exercise one's mind. Learn how to build sentences as well as how to interpret meanings.

Stimulates imagination and creativity: Storytelling allows one to learn and play creatively with language. It encourages one to think creatively -- outside the box.

(Bi)literacy skills expanded: Storytelling ignites interests in reading and writing (text and video). It develops and hones the skills of translating and interpreting from a language to another (e.g. English and Ameslan/ASL).

Cultural appreciation: Stories offer one to learn and explore their own cultural roots and experience other different languages and cultures. They offer insights into similar human traits and universal life experiences. Storytelling brings one to develop an understanding, respect and appreciation for other cultures.

Relaxation and bonding: Storytelling promotes well-being and refreshing relaxation. It helps soothe a hectic day and stress. It allows emotional and mental catharsis. As sign language is expressive and rich in imagery in storytelling, it allows one express stories in visual, tactile, temporal forms.

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.