“Harry Potter” Signs in ASL
Have you ever found yourself needing to sign “Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes” in a Harry Potter discussion with a friend but there’s no short way to communicate it? Do you find it hard to remember how to spell “Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore”? Fed up with finger spelling every name, place, class, or spell that JKR created, some members of the Deaf community gathered together (via the Internet, of course!) and invented their own American Sign Language (ASL) Harry Potter signs. Here’s why and how:
Sign languages are based on the idea that vision is the most useful tool a deaf person has to communicate with others. In ASL, there is a set of 26 signs known as the American manual alphabet which can be used to spell out words from the English language. Although finger spelling was an available option to Deaf Potterheads and their friends, it had the tendency to be tedious and excessive. Even if all of J.K. Rowling’s character names haven’t been summoned from the depths of her phenomenal imagination, it’s uncommon to find common names and words in her stories. Recognizing a great need for the Deaf community, Kaitlyn and her peers have unofficially pioneered a way for a very significant part of the Potter fan base to host their own in-depth fan discussions through sign names.
In Deaf culture and sign language, a sign name is a special sign that is used to uniquely identify a person, just like a name. Until a person receives a sign name, the person’s name is usually fingerspelled. If Hagrid himself has a hard time remembering how to spell Voldemort’s name, just imagine how difficult some of the more complicated Potterverse words are to fingerspell! These members of the Deaf community, however, didn’t just create sign names for Harry Potter characters. Sometimes having such a creative, inventive author like JKR can prove to be difficult. Just think of all of the spells! Think of the Hogwarts Houses, the Quidditch balls, and the magical creatures! I have to google how to spell “Acromantula,” so I can’t imagine recalling those words – and not messing them up as you go – at the drop of a Sorting Hat.
Like any unfamiliar word that’s spoken and heard for the first time, a new signed word might be gibberish the first time someone encounters it. But by the second or third use, people usually figure out its meaning! Kaitlyn wrote, “Those suggested signs are not the ‘final’ version nor are they set in stone, but rather the result of our brainstorming and discussion sessions. We are sharing the videos to kickstart an intellectual discussion of possible signs for those names/items/terms mentioned.” With 16 videos and over 150 signs brainstormed, the Creative Pensieve has made language and cultural interaction between the books (and films) and the Deaf community possible. And even better, this information is available to all.
Many thanks to Kaitlyn at the Creative Pensieve and her peers in the Deaf community who took on this big project!