Michigan State University’s ASL Browser web site is “an online American Sign Language (ASL) browser where you can look up video of thousands of ASL signs and learn interesting things about them.” Extremely useful—film clips are far more helpful than verbal descriptions for learning sign language. (Via MetaFilter.)
Addendum. ASL poetry:

Prior to the 1970s, there are no published records about ASL poets or poetry. To be sure, the art of storytelling has a long history in ASL and Deaf culture, and skilled storytellers are revered as in other cultures. In the 1960s, William Stokoe of Gallaudet University began the first analysis of sign language based upon linguistic principles. As the understanding and acceptance of these ideas of ASL structure spread, so did the art of manipulating these structures for poetic effect. Valli reports that by the 1970s, there may have been as many as five ASL poets. At first, many Deaf people were resistant even to the idea of poetry; upon hearing of a poetry performance, one woman tells that she believed it was a performance for a translation of an English poem, much like a performance of music put to sign. In fact, the sign for POETRY in ASL is nearly identical to the sign for MUSIC. Realizing that he would need to overcome such misconceptions to gain acceptance, Valli stopped using the sign POETRY, and for many years fingerspelled P-O-E-T when speaking of ASL poetry. Now, a new sign has emerged into popular use, which clearly distinguishes ASL poetry from English poetry.

Via an AskMetaFilter thread “Does the concept of ‘rhyme’ exist in sign language?,” which also links to this article on Translating Shakespeare into sign language:

“The most difficult part is rhyming,” explains Novak, noting that rhyme is by definition a similarity of sounds, a concept that is inherently foreign to sign language. The way out of the paradox, he explains, is to find close visual images to translate the text. Sometimes, it can take hours to come up with just the right adaptation, he notes.


  1. My son has auditory neuropathy. This means that he hears, but imperfectly. We have been learning Signed Exact English. Or rather, trying to learn it from books. Static images with a verbal description just don’t quite capture the richness of a gesture. Since SEE uses many gestures taken from ASL this will be a really great resource for us. Thank-you for the link. It is very much appreciated!!

  2. You’re very welcome; it’s nice to feel this site is of some actual use in the world!

  3. Michael Farris says

    I’ll just add that the site is very good for formal citation forms that show some etymology. Most of the time, though, fluent signers abbreviate these signs quite a bit. (this is quite apart from any kind of inflection that signs may undergo).
    In everyday ASL, for example, male and female signs for example systematically feature progressive handshape assimilation. So that WOMAN and MAN aren’t GIRL+FINE, BOY+FINE respectively, but a single movement from chin, forehead to chest (same handshape as FINE, namely the 5 hand).
    Other signs may look entirely different in their short forms (this was a big problem for me when I was learning Polish sign language).
    Learning lots of individual signs is interesting, and of course important if you want to learn a sign language, but to you can memorize entire dictionaries of citation forms and not understand anything that signing people do.

Speak Your Mind