Moving beyond words in Scotland's corp-oral traditions. British Sign Language storytelling meets the 'deaf public voice'.
Leith, Eleanor Crowther
MetadataShow full item record
Scotland’s oral traditions have received scholarly attention since the 18th Century; however, collection and analysis has exclusively focused on those passed on ‘by word of mouth,’ and the traditional arts of Scotland’s deaf communities have been overlooked. This thesis begins to address this oversight by examining storytelling practices passed on ‘by sign of hand’ in British Sign Language (BSL). Neither fully acculturated to majority society nor ‘foreigners in their own country’ (Murray 2008:102), signing-deaf people have distinct ways of ‘doing’ culture which involve negotiating a bilingual-bicultural continuum between the hearing and deaf worlds. The historical exclusion of signing-deaf culture from conceptualisations of Scotland’s cultural heritage is increasingly being challenged, both overtly and tacitly, through an emergent ‘deaf public voice’ (Bechter 2008:72); in light of this, I consider three case-studies in which BSL storytelling practices have been placed in the public domain. Drawing on fieldwork, interviews and the in-depth analysis of BSL performance-texts, I examine the ways in which signing-deaf biculturality is expressed and performed, and consider the artistry involved in storytelling in a visual-spatial-kinetic language. In so doing, a working methodology is proposed for presenting signed material to non-signers, laying the groundwork for further collection and analysis. Applying Bauman and Murray’s concept of ‘Deaf Gain’ (2009), I argue that the study of this new corpus of oral material has a radical contribution to make to the field of ethnology and folklore, not least in highlighting phonocentric assumptions embedded in the study of oral traditions. I emphasise the extent to which the transmission of culture is predicated on particular ‘techniques of the body’ (Mauss 1973), and argue that, in drawing on different modality-specific affordances, both spoken and signed storytelling should be understood as part of the totality of Scotland’s ‘corp-oral’ traditions through which culture is transmitted ‘by performance of body.’