Deaf Jokes and Sign Language Humour

Rachel L Sutton-Spence, Donna Jo Napoli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


This paper describes the humor of Deaf communities, arguing that the humor is related primarily to the dominant visual experience of Deaf people, but also influenced by their knowledge of humor traditions in the hearing society at large. Sign language humor in America and Britain may be seen in the creation of new visual signs, the witty reanalysis of existing signs and in bilingual games in which English is manipulated within sign languages. The content of Deaf humor supports the in-group of community members who embrace their signing collective Deaf identity and denigrates out-group people, including deaf people who do not belong to the community and hearing people who are often seen as a threat to the community. Many of these jokes also make reference to sign language. We conclude that the visual nature of Deaf humor is one of its key characteristics and ask what else this can tell us about the Deaf cultural way of interacting with and presenting the world.
Translated title of the contributionDeaf Jokes and Sign Language Humour
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-338
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Deaf; sign language; culture; visual experience


Dive into the research topics of 'Deaf Jokes and Sign Language Humour'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this