Linguistics Colloquium: Gal Belsitzman

09/06/2020 - 14:00 - 15:30

Gal Belsitzman, University of Haifa

Title: Realizing the expressive potential of the body in a Sign Language Theatre Laboratory


Artistic and metalinguistic uses of language, as in poetry and language games, manipulate aspects of linguistic structure for aesthetic effect and entertainment. By extending language beyond its boundaries, such manipulations are known to reveal much about underlying linguistic form and communicative functions (Bagemihl 1995). Similarly, creative use of sign language and physical theatre by deaf actors is expected to provide novel and enlightening data and to shed light on the communicative functions of body articulators.

My study focuses on the work of Ebisu Sign Language Theatre Laboratory (2014-2018), which consists of eight actors, all of whom use Israeli Sign Language (ISL) for daily communication. Although actors have been asked to generate data for numerous scientific studies of emotional expression (e.g., Bänziger et al. 2009), deaf actors have never been the object of linguistic study before.

The actors in Ebisu incorporate different devices from two mediums of body communication in their creation: (1) sign language, the actors’ natural language, which includes grammatical devices of ISL, and (2) physical theatre, which includes methods of movement and creation that are acquired in the studio during rehearsals.

The theatre field liberates the language from the rules and constraints it is bound to in everyday communication. Thus, it enables the actors to stretch the linguistic boundaries and use them creatively to form new meanings.

In this talk I will present and analyze examples both from Ebisu’s work in the studio and Ebisu’s performances in order to show the different ways in which the actors realize the expressive potential of their (whole) body using their linguistic knowledge together with physical theatre methods.


Bagemihl, B. (1995). Language Games and Related Areas. In J. Goldsmith (ed.) The Handbook of Phonological Theory. Cambridge: Blackwell Publisher, 697-712.

Bänziger H., Boongird S., Sukumalanand P. & Bänziger S. (2009). Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) that drink human tears, Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 8, 135–150.

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