Are ASL Translations Limited to English Poetry?: A Response to Kate Weaver
by Jamie Rester
The author very much appreciates the interest in her work and was able to uncover even more useful information in the realm of translating poetry and prose into ASL while attempting to answer these questions. That being said, using ASL to interpret literature can be used with poetry, prose, and even plays, however poetry was only used in this article for the sake of conciseness. The author contemplated shortening the work even more so that only one poem was analyzed, but thought that all three works together made the strongest argument. Because of this, the title was chosen to show that this way of interpreting can absolutely be used for both prose and poetry, even though the article itself is limited to poetry.
To that point, through her research, the author found a group of performers (including Crom Saunders) who took on the project of translating Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night into ASL which can be found at http://www.ASLShakespeare.org. The group compiles a list of ASL characteristics that they were able to incorporate into the work. Some of those characteristics include word/sign play, transformational signs, rhyming in ASL, and cultural references. Examples of each are provided on the website. The one that the author found most intriguing was the first example of the word/sign play where one actor signed “I will never die!” while another actor takes his arm that he just used to sign the word “never” and slits it across his throat to show that he will, in fact, die someday (Novak). This could even lend to the interpretation that his death may come “at his own hand” so to speak.
The website also speaks of challenges that the group faced while compiling this project, some of which include homophones, staging, visual vernacular, idioms, and classifiers (which was included in the article). Works like this are fascinating and include much preparation and delving into what they believe Shakespeare’s original intent was, while also adjusting some of the content to be appropriate for the circumstance.
A work like this could be instrumental for the hearing community to learn not only more about deaf culture, but also to see different ways of interpreting profound pieces of work such as Shakespeare’s right before their eyes. This thought is also displayed in the article as one of the bigger themes of it was to bring the deaf and hearing communities together to provide more interpretations of literature that were not previously thought of. Obviously captions or an interpreter would need to be used in order for those not familiar with ASL to understand exactly what is being said, but that is all the more reason for the two communities to come together. It should also be said that having an expert interpret exactly what is being signed is a point that will really give life to new interpretations for those unfamiliar with ASL. For example, in the article, it states that Saunders signs the word “proud” in “Death, Be Not Proud,” but “He then touches his head with both index fingers and brings them up and away from himself, displaying the concept of being ‘big headed.’” This sign may be lost if it is not interpreted exactly the way it is signed. Overall, the author greatly appreciated the interest in her work and enjoyed diving even more into this topic that she is so passionate about. More research and information is coming out consistently as these two communities bridge the cultural gap, which is the crux of the article and the hope of the author.
Novak, Peter. “ASL Shakespeare.” ASL Shakespeare, Amaryllis Theater, aslshakespeare.org/.
Jamie Rester graduated from Rochester College in Rochester, MI in May of 2018 and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus in English and a minor in Reading. Her paper was written for one of her last classes while studying at Rochester where she wanted to combine her passion for literature as well as American Sign Language. Since graduating, she has begun teaching as a Title 1 Reading teacher in Detroit to at-risk middle and high school students.
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