Modern Poetry in Translation - Getting it Across

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Anypoemis not just about themeaningof thewords, but alsoabout somemusical qualityof thelanguage. Inahearing poemthis musical qualityis perceivedbythe ear, ina Sign poemit is perceivedbytheeye. Signhas tempo, shape, space and movement (these qualities can be present in spoken language too but are not visible). Forminhearingpoems is dictatedbysound–itisheard, forexample, instresspatterns, inthe rhythmof the words, inrhyme. InSign, this formis showninthe‘assonance’ and‘dissonance’ of handshapes, the flowofmovementbetweenthetwohands,therelation between thehandsetc. InThe Signs of Language byKlimaandBellugi, theauthors statethat‘whatisspecialaboutverse isa heightenedawareness of linguisticphenomenaas linguisticphenomena’. This holds true for hearingandSignpoems. Inart Sign, the signs are describedas ‘morefastidious’ where‘thevisual motivationof eachsignisemphasised to createastrongerimagerybut also to drawattentiontotheformof thesignitself’. Inadditiontoallthis, thepoetwillselectsignsandperform them in such a way as to forma visual three-dimensional designinspace. Thisiscalled‘superstructure’ andmightmost usefullybecomparedtomelodyinasongassomethingdistinct fromthewordsbutaddinganextradimension. Thereis, therefore, achoreographytoSignpoetrywherethe naturalphysicalityof thelanguage is harnessedandaugmented toproduce‘forminmovement’. Thistakesthelanguageaway frombeingmerelya methodof communicationandtowards performanceart. Insummary, there is clearly a very different aesthetic in Signpoetrythaninhearingpoetrywhichreflects theunique wayinwhichthose whose primarylanguage is visuo-spatial perceive and‘process’ the world. The full appreciationof a ‘visual music’ isunlikelytobepossibleforahearingaudience orfornon-nativesigners. Though‘artSign’ differssomewhatfromeverydaySign, itis likely that it remains comprehensible to a deaf or native

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signingaudience, as the spontaneousmutabilitythat is evident in conversational Sign is one of the language’s central characteristics. Signers will tendtoimprovise andembellish signs, toplaywiththelanguage, whenconversing. (Klimaand Bellugi write ‘incommunicatingamongst themselves, or in narrative, deaf signers often extend, enhance, or exaggerate mimetic properties . . . Thus ASL remains a two-faceted language–formallystructuredandyet insignificant respects mimeticallyfree’.) Morethanjust thelinguisticuniqueness of Sign, it is this mutability, this freedomthat is at theheart of thelanguage, that is drivingtheredefinitionof amediumthathas hitherto beenconsideredexclusivelytextbased.


• A Journey Into The Deaf World, Harlan Lane, Robert HoffmeisterandBenBahan, 1996.

• The Signs of Language, KlimaandBellugi, 1979.

• The Linguistics of BSL: An Introduction, Sutton-Spence and Woll, 1999.

• EducatingDeaf Students –fromResearchtoPractice, Marschark, LangandAlbertini. 2002, OxfordUniversityPress.

• LiteracyandDeafness: The Development of Reading, Writingand Literate Thought, PeterV. Paul, 1998.

• SeeingVoices , OliverSacks, Picador, 1990.