We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Metaphor in American Sign Language

Phyllis Perrin Wilcox

Publication Year: 2000

Only recently have linguists ceased to regard metaphors as mere frills on the periphery of language and begun to recognize them as cornerstones of discourse. Phyllis Wilcox takes this innovation one step further in her fascinating study of metaphors in American Sign Language (ASL). Such an inquiry has long been obscured by, as Wilcox calls it, “the shroud of iconicity.” ASL’s iconic nature once discouraged people from recognizing it as a language; more recently it has served to confuse linguists examining its metaphors. Wilcox, however, presents methods for distinguishing between icon and metaphor, allowing the former to clarify, not cloud, the latter. “If the iconic influence that surrounds metaphor is set aside, the results will be greater understanding, and interpretations that are less opaque.” Wilcox concludes her study with a close analysis of the ASL poem, “The Dogs,” by Ella Mae Lentz. In presenting Deaf Americans’, Deaf Germans’, and Deaf Italians’ reactions to the poem, Wilcox manages not only to demonstrate the influence of culture upon metaphors, but also to illuminate the sources of sociopolitical division within the American Deaf community. Metaphor in American Sign Language proves an engrossing read for those interested in linguistics and Deaf culture alike.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (36.2 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (22.3 KB)
pp. vii


pdf iconDownload PDF (48.2 KB)
pp. ix-x

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (41.3 KB)
pp. xi-xiii

Several years ago, an undergraduate sign language interpreting major at the University of New Mexico (UNM) approached me and asked that I direct her to “a book on metaphors in American Sign Language.” Our search turned up no such book. During the subsequent years I became interested in the experiential theory of ...

Typographical Treatments

pdf iconDownload PDF (51.3 KB)
pp. xv

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (47.0 KB)
pp. 1-6

Educated speakers of English will recognize the previous sentence as containing a metaphor. Some people may not understand what constitutes a metaphor, but they accept without much thought that a colorful line of prose can be metaphorical. In the past, metaphors were considered to be mysterious and poetic. Until recently, a metaphor was considered to be just a flowery ...

read more

1. What Is a Metaphor?

pdf iconDownload PDF (135.6 KB)
pp. 7-35

Scholars who study metaphor theory have not always agreed on what constitutes metaphor as a unit of discourse. Traditionally, metaphors were considered to be full sentences (Black 1962). More recently, metaphors have been identified in different grammatical components and can be contained in a word (Sweetser 1987b); a ...

read more

2. Removing the Shroud of Iconicity

pdf iconDownload PDF (116.0 KB)
pp. 36-53

The iconic, mimetic aspect of American Sign Language (ASL) has always been apparent. During the first half of the twentieth century, its close association with isomorphic physical representations and actions gave it a questionable linguistic status. Offering a historical perspective, Stokoe notes that “before there was sign language ...

read more

3. An Ethnographic Approach to Signed Language Data Collection

pdf iconDownload PDF (88.1 KB)
pp. 54-68

The goal of ethnography is to describe a culture from the native’s point of view; the task of ethnographic research is to discover and describe important variables. The initial objective of this study was the elicitation of particular linguistic units, metaphors, rather than a corpus of field notes to be coded ethnographically. However, the ...

read more

4. Reviewing the Tropes in American Sign Language

pdf iconDownload PDF (923.2 KB)
pp. 69-96

Metaphors and related tropes interact with, are embedded within, and heavily motivate and influence, each other. While each trope involves psychologically distinct cognitive processes, their interaction is intertwined in deep and subtle ways. The analysis of ASL metaphors helps to delineate these relationships. ...

read more

5. Metaphorical Mapping in American Sign Language

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.7 MB)
pp. 97-145

The linguistic picture that ASL presents to the world is molded in part by the metaphorical mapping of concepts onto actual hand-shape formations and articulations. The hands reveal relationships of form, movement, and location through mental concepts that are motivated by the daily experiences of its language users. ...

read more

6. Crossing a Metaphorical Ocean

pdf iconDownload PDF (271.0 KB)
pp. 146-170

What mysteries are embedded in a sign? The simplest signs in ASL have passed through the hands of thousands of deaf people. The motions have been repeated millions of times. What happens to the shape and to the meaning of common signs in ASL when they have been expressed and embodied daily by deaf people? What ...

read more

7. Two Dogs and a Metaphorical Chain

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.2 KB)
pp. 171-194

Language is shaped by human cognition, and there are powerful connections between language and culture. It is impossible to consider the cultural awareness of the American Deaf community without relating to deaf people’s common experiences in using their gestural/visual language. Even the simple act of greeting and ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (63.7 KB)
pp. 195-204


pdf iconDownload PDF (68.1 KB)
pp. 205-213

E-ISBN-13: 9781563682209
E-ISBN-10: 1563682206
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563680991
Print-ISBN-10: 1563680998

Page Count: 228
Illustrations: 2 tables, 43 figures
Publication Year: 2000