Symmetry and Balance

  • Rachel Sutton-Spence


Symmetry is the idea that something has an equal and opposite counterpart. Increased use of symmetrical signing and signing balanced in opposing areas of space is another way that unusual language regularity brings the language to the foreground in a sign language poem. In any sign language, some signs use a single hand in their citation form and other signs use two hands in their citation form, Additionally, some of the two-handed signs are symmetrical (each hand having the same handshape and movement and being articulated in symmetrically opposing locations) and some not symmetrical (especially where the two hands have different handshapes). Everyday signing uses a random mixture of one-handed and two-handed signs, symmetrical or not, but poets can deliberately select a sequence consisting entirely of two-handed signs, or even articulate two one-handed signs at the same time, to create an aesthetic effect. It is also possible for the poet to select only onehanded signs. In sign language poetry, sequences of one-handed signs are especially notable and meaningful precisely because most poems attempt to create balance and symmetry through the use of two hands. All of this allows the sign language poem to make use of symmetry and balance. The Italian Sign Language linguists Tommaso Russo and Elena Pizzuto worked with the Deaf poet Rosaria Giuranna to compare the proportion of two-handed symmetrical signs used in sign language poetry and nonpoetic language used in lectures.


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© Rachel Sutton-Spence 2005

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  • Rachel Sutton-Spence

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