"it is natural, really deaf signing" - script development for fictional programmes involving sign languages

Annelies Kusters*, Jordan Fenlon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Historically, fictional productions which use sign language have often begun with scripts that use the written version of a spoken language. This can be a challenge for deaf actors as they must translate the written word to a performed sign language text. Here, we explore script development in Small World, a television comedy which attempted to avoid this challenge by using improvisation to create their script. The creators framed this process as a response to what they saw as "inauthentic"sign language use on television, foregrounding the need to present "natural signing"on the screen. According to them, "natural signing"is not influenced by an English script but is varied language use that reflect a character's background, their settings, and the characters that they interact with. We describe how this authentic language use is derived primarily from improvisation and is in competition with other demands, which are textual (e.g., the need to ensure comedic value), studio-based (e.g., operating within the practical confines of the studio), or related to audience design (e.g., the need to ensure comprehensibility). We discuss how the creative team negotiated the tension between the quest for authentic language use and characteristics of the genre, medium, and audience.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date5 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Jul 2021


  • audience design
  • authenticity
  • comedy
  • screenwriting
  • sign language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of '"it is natural, really deaf signing" - script development for fictional programmes involving sign languages'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this