Stretching Boundaries: ASL Literature Course Spotlight

William Woods ASL

At William Woods University, bachelors in American Sign Language Interpretation and ASL Studies students take various courses that build breadth and depth of knowledge about Deaf culture and the various artistic expressions that have come out of the Deaf Community.

Bachelors in ASL students gain better understanding of Deaf Culture William Woods University ASL Instructor Becky Davis developed the course ASL430: ASL Literature and has taught it several times.

“ASL Literature is a look at how the Deaf Community and ASL users have experienced language and others’ views of language over time,” said Davis. It is also “a look at how different forms of language play and manipulation have a direct link to the community’s experience as a minority culture living amongst a majority culture who may or may not understand their perspective.”

The American Sign Language literature class is a mix of lecture, hands on, and analytical assignments.  Students are introduced to well-known work and authors, poets, and performers, as well as try some of the language play out on their own.  The class looks at narratives and folklore, poetry, formulaic stories (A to Z stories, Number stories, Handshape stories, Classifier stories), Percussion songs, and a little bit of written literature and cinema.

“I enjoy watching students analyze work and see them apply the information to their own language and experience. Our students work really hard at learning their second language, and here, they get to see how much they know, the linguistic knowledge they have, and get to ‘stretch’ it a bit in their own creative ways,” said Davis.

The course looks at contributors such as Clayton Valli, Ben Bahan, Patrick Graybill, Ella Mae Lentz, and Sam Supalla, among others.

“The pieces we look at are all artifacts of these people and this culture that has evolved throughout time in America,” said Davis,  “I think [students] like stretching their own boundaries with language.  ASL has features and capabilities that spoken and written language do not have.”

A recent interview with Deaf Poet Ella Mae Lentz, recipient of the 2016 Street Leverage National Treasure award in April.

“I have a vision of a world where Deaf people are on par with the rest of the world, where our sign language is cherished and inspiring, where our deaf identities are accepted, where we advance so we may stand among other languages and culture of the world, where we are respected, and where we learn, offer, and receive knowledge.”