University of Delaware
Donna Jo Napoli of Swarthmore College will discuss humor in American Sign Language during a presentation Feb. 10.

Feb. 10: ASL and humor

Swarthmore's Napoli to discuss humor in American Sign Language


9:22 a.m., Jan. 30, 2012--Donna Jo Napoli, professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College, will discuss humor in American Sign Language during a presentation from 2:30-4 p.m., Friday, Feb. 10, in 104 Gore Hall on the University of Delaware campus in Newark.

The title of Napoli's talk is "Deaf Humor: How the Components of the Grammar are Exploited, and What This Tells Us About the Evolution of Language."

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The talk, which is free and open to the public is part of the Cognitive Science Colloquium and is hosted by UD's Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science.

Napoli is a nationally recognized speaker on sign language and the deaf, as well as an award-winning children's book author.

In an abstract about the presentation, she writes, "What makes people laugh, and why? The answers differ based on the people, but also based on their language. In this presentation we will examine points of humor in American Sign Language with brief remarks on British Sign Language, and see how all the components of the grammar can be played with toward humorous ends.

"Fundamentals of sign will be discussed with an eye on the ways sign languages inherently and inescapably uses analogy, metaphor, framing, and other human singularities required for conceptual integration networks. This will lead to the speculation (but educated speculation) that sign languages were the first human languages."

Arild Hestvik, associate professor of linguistics and cognitive science, said the talk is especially relevant for the University community given the recent Faculty Senate decision to allow American Sign Language to count as a foreign language for the purposes of UD admission requirements.

"We think this talk will provide insight about American Sign Language (ASL) and its culture in a very unique way, as the speaker is using the phenomenon of humor to say something significant about ASL," Hestvik said, adding, "We hope that this will do away with some of the misconceptions about deaf people's language."

Comic strip panel courtesy of Ervin Reyes, Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf

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