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Metaphor in American Sign Language

Phyllis Perrin Wilcox

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From Disabilities Studies Quarterly

Wilcox�s book analyzes metaphor in ASL, specifically the phonological and morphological structures found in signs that refer to culturally patterned metaphorical statements about the mind, thoughts, and ideas. Be warned that the book is thick going, very dense, and often difficult writing. As the chapters unfold, though, Wilcox outlines a fresh way of examining ASL signs and meaning, repaying the effort.

The discussion of ASL tropes (metaphor, simile, and metonymy - or using a part to represent a whole) is fascinating and makes the clearest account of the relationship between iconicity and metaphor I have seen. Also, Wilcox enriches the ASL descriptions with reference to English and the structures it shares with ASL, those that ASL shares with other sign languages, and the meanings that are not shared among sign languages. For instance, English makes use of the metaphor understanding as grasping, as in �Do you get it?� In ASL the verb GET means only the physical act of receiving so it cannot take the abstract metaphorical meaning. ASL, instead, uses the more complex structure �ideas in existence are straight� one instance of which is the extended index finger in UNDERSTAND. Both Catalan and German Sign Languages use the grasping metaphor. Japanese and Cuban sign languages, like ASL, use the straight metaphor.

Last, Wilcox offers an analysis of Ella Mae Lentz�s ASL poem The Dogs. It is at once linguistic and literary and provides a wonderful example of the interaction of language with culture. If you have ever been skeptical about Deaf Americans� identity as a cultural group, you will find Wilcox�s cross-cultural data compelling and convincing. This book is not for the faint- hearted. The theoretical underpinnings are complex and the ASL data, while clear, will be challenging for non-signers. Wilcox has added to our understanding of sign languages and of interrelationships among language, cultural life, and the life of the mind.

-- Claire Ramsey, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders

Phyllis Perrin Wilcox is Professor, Department of Linguistics and Founder, Signed Language Interpreting Program, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.

ISBN 978-1-56368-099-1, 6 x 9 casebound, 228 pages, sign illustrations, photographs, tables, references, index


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