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When a bilingual creation enriches a language Bilingual tales (French – Sign Language) and the linguistic consciousness of Deaf signers

Two storytellers (one deaf, the other hearing) relate their tales simultaneously in Sign Language (the Sign Language of Southern Belgium) and in French. This experience reveals how important it is for the linguistic consciousness of Deaf signers that they encounter stories. This is very often, even for Deaf adults, where they discover that their language, a signed language, is constructed according to a network of rules, just like any other language. And further that the signer or the speaker can play with these rules. Sign language then is not merely a communication tool: it is a symbolic structure that opens the way for creativity. This experience of storytelling also highlights the differences between these languages: neither the rules, nor the infinite array of possible plays on these rules, are identical in French and in Sign Language. The storytellers’ work is to translate, to negotiate between the languages. It is significant that these discoveries arise from encountering the stories in French. Signers seem to need first to follow the example given by the works in the dominant language which is then translated into Sign Language, before they feel allowed to create in their own language with its own specific rules.