Notes on “The Last Word”

Captions provided. Watch in high definition. Watch the companion poem at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YO1z2Ac2UI.

Image description: Eric Epstein, a white young man with shaved hair, wearing a green T-shirt. The background is a whiteboard that lists the following: “(line 1) Title: The Last Word (line 2) Characters: Narrator, three words, oralists, deaf militants (line 3) Setting: Hearing and speech center, ASL world (line 4) Topic: War between pro-ASL and anti-ASL people (line 5) Theme: Communication and language (line 6) Tone: Humorous.” He is signing “WORD.”

Transcript: [Eric, a white man, is standing in front of a whiteboard] “The Last Word” is a poem with the topic of war between pro-ASL and anti-ASL people. The poem takes place in a hearing and speech center where the narrator, who is deaf, sits across from an oralist teaching speech. The first word approaches the narrator, who checks it out as a cute/small word. The oralist breaks up the word and pounds its dead body on its other body parts, which is also the sign that means “syllable.” The narrator trembles at the atrocity. Then, the second word comes up, tall and handsome. The oralist tackles it and cuts up the big word violently into multiple syllables. The narrator is horrified by the violent death of the second word. Finally, the narrator runs away with the last word to a safe place of sign language, where sounds cannot track the word, much to the relief of the narrator and the last word. Then, the oralist cooks up a plan: Signed Exact English. The oralist signs “DEAFNESS” using Signed Exact English, which also means “DEAF BURY.” The oralist cuts up a butterfly with a knife and sends a butter flying out. Then, the oralist modifies the sign “LET” to conform with English and to gain a pair of guns. As these Signed Exact English signs invade the ASL world, they are caught up in a war, the war itself literally being influenced by English with the letter “W.” The deaf militants dismantle the Signed Exact English sign for “war” and expel all such signs. When the deaf militants express their support for sign language, they realize that the very sign for “SUPPORT”” is influenced by English, and the deaf militant who signed that is expelled from the group. The deaf militants then throw out fruits and vegetables, only to decimate in population as there is no more food. The signs for “FRUIT” and “VEGETABLE” are influenced by English. To throw them out leaves the people with nothing. That exemplifies the humorous tone of the poem. Upon realizing that they should accept influences from other languages, ASL finally expands. The overall theme of the poem is the importance of language and communication.

Major disclaimer: This video is a work in progress.

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