Izihlahla Ezikhuluma Ngezandla (“Trees Who Talk with Hands”): Tree Poems in South African Sign Language

Keywords: African literature; deaf; personification; sign language poetry; South African Sign Language; tree

Abstract

This article explores the way in which trees (izihlahla in isiZulu) are represented in South African Sign Language (SASL) literature. We contextualise our study in the broader field of African folklore and literature as SASL literature is steeped in deaf culture as well as that of a wider African culture of hearing people. Using a close reading approach of a selection of poems, we claim that many key features of tree symbolism and tree personification that are found in African literature and folklore (written or spoken) can also be identified in SASL literature (signed). In both literatures, the tree is seen as a symbol of growth, the circle of life, hope and knowledge, the ancestors and custodians of history, as well as a character with its own presence. Our findings highlight the modality-independent nature of human creativity

This article explores the way in which trees (izihlahla in isiZulu) are represented in South African Sign Language (SASL) literature. We contextualise our study in the broader field of African folklore and literature as SASL literature is steeped in deaf culture as well as that of a wider African culture of hearing people. Using a close reading approach of a selection of poems, we claim that many key features of tree symbolism and tree personification that are found in African literature and folklore (written or spoken) can also be identified in SASL literature (signed). In both literatures, the tree is seen as a symbol of growth, the circle of life, hope and knowledge, the ancestors and custodians of history, as well as a character with its own presence. Our findings highlight the modality-independent nature of human creativity.

Author Biographies

Michiko Kaneko, University of the Witwatersrand

South African Sign Langage Department. Lecturer and Head of Department

Ruth Morgan, University of the Witwatersrand

Senior Lecturer at Wits SASL department

Published
2019-07-25
Section
Articles