The Concept of Visual Language in The Enchanting Music of Sign Language by Christine Sun Kim

Topics: Sign Language

In “The Enchanting Music of Sign Language,” Christine Sun Kim explores the world of deafness, the American Sign Language, and the connection between sound, visual, and movement. In this TED talk, she examines the concept of visual language and engages her audience to facilitate their understanding of a deaf person’s perspective of sound and communication. Coming from a visual arts background, Kim uses imagery to help her convey these ideas to her audience.

At the beginning of her TED talk, Kim discusses the musical notation p, which stands for piano and means “quiet and soft.

” In her abstract painting of p-trees, she shows that no matter how soft the sounds get, there is still some sound to be heard. She draws upon this concept to arrive at the denotation, “That’s my current definition of silence: a very obscure sound.” Sound exists in many forms. Kim is trying to convey that sound can be experienced in different ways, and not necessarily in ways that a person with no hearing disability is used to.

After talking about the history of American Sign Language (ASL) and a little bit about her own life – “I was born deaf, and I was taught to believe that sound wasn’t a part of my life” – Kim discusses “sound etiquette,” a term she coined. She coined many terms to describe interactions between the world of deafness and sound and uses these terms throughout the TED talk, which allows her to explain the unique ways she is thinking and feeling about sound.

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She also uses many paradoxical statements as Kim is deaf but at the same time understands sound.

The next image she uses is the three staff lines with no notes on them, each labeled as “TBD,” “TBC,” and “TBA.” They have no notes because the “notes” are contained through the subtle smudges and smears.” To Kim, three staves in the drawing represent the link between the auditory and visual world. She goes on to say that a musical note cannot be fully captured on paper because of the many nuances and tones each note carries. ASL is also very fluid and dynamic involving gestures, and, face and arm movements. Thus, Kim shows how ASL mimics the complexity and movement of music, drawing parallels between how a hearing person and a deaf person experience sound. The next image she used was the ASL movements for “all night.” This image also showed how ASL and music are connected since the sign for “all night” looks like a fermata, a musical symbol.

The next term Kim uses in her talk is “social currency.” Social currency is anything that we share because it makes others like us. She uses this term to explain why deaf people have a disadvantage in society, and how sound allows one to have a voice, i.e. have social currency. In the TED talk, there are “two” speakers; Kim herself, and her interpreter. This is interesting because even though it’s Kim’s TED talk, she requires someone else to say what she is communicating due to her being deaf. To Kim, being heard required the use of interpreters, so she “borrows” social currency to be heard and get her message across to the audience.

Her audience is hearing people who want to better understand the deaf culture and how it can be integrated into the auditory society. She is also sharing her experiences with other deaf people to encourage them to participate in society and not feel limited in how they interact with the “hearing” world.

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The Concept of Visual Language in The Enchanting Music of Sign Language by Christine Sun Kim. (2022, Jun 27). Retrieved from

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