Rhythmic structures in French Sign Language (LSF) nursery rhymes
Research over the past three decades has brought attention to various ways in which linguistic structures are exploited to build poetic form in sign languages. These include recurring patterns of phonological elements (similar to rhyme, alliteration or assonance) that play a role in the structure of verses and strophes, as well as uses of metaphor and modifications of the form of signs that contribute to an overall fluidity of movement distinct from non-poetic signed discourse. In this paper we concentrate our attention on the role of rhythmic structure and the ways in which it interacts with syntactic structure to build poetic form. Our data consist of nursery rhymes, either original LSF creations or adaptations from French nursery rhymes, which were composed by Deaf adults and children. This type of poetry, as a genre of oral literature, is essentially performance-related and is highly variable in form. Despite the difference in modality (oral vs. gestural), LSF and French nursery rhymes show similar characteristics (repetition of phonological units, non-significant gesture, similar subject matter etc.), and rhythmic structure is central to their overall structure. This paper isolates rhythmic templates in LSF nursery rhymes via the analysis of accentual prosody (speed, intensity and manner of movement) and compares the nursery rhymes with an equivalent corpus of non-poetic performances. This research is relevant to the question of the universality of infant rhythmic structure and the importance of nursery rhymes in first language acquisition.
Published online: 15 August 2002
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