Basic Signs Everyone Should Know
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Beth discusses what life was like before the ADA, and how it does impact her life.
Lots of people who run across a person who is deaf, or a signer, find themselves wishing they knew a couple of basic signs.
Im deaf, and I often wish people around me knew basic signs. That way I could briefly communicate with them if I needed to.
Some online links are great for learning to sign, but where do you start? American Sign Language is overwhelmingly visual and complex.
To start with the basics, we dont sign words such as are or is or a or to. Those words are omitted to make it a visual language. We sign how you? instead of How are you?, where bathroom? instead of Where is the bathroom? and so on. English grammar brings awkward pauses in our signing. I hope this makes sense!
The most important skill you should know is how to finger spell the alphabet. With this, you can finger spell a word and ask for the sign that accompanies it.
Here are some important phrases in American Sign Language:
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Sign Language Dictionary Sites
- Signing SavvyThis site has QuickTime videos of adult signing words from an alphabetized list.
- ASLPro This video dictionary is divided into the main dictionary, religious dictionary, conversational phrases, and a baby sign dictionary.
- ASLDeafined This is a pay site run by two sign language specialists. In addition to a dictionary, it has a series of video lessons organized by topic.
- ASL University This site provides many free self-study materials, lessons, and information, as well as fee-based instructor-guided courses. Many instructors use the ASLU lessons as a free “textbook” for their local ASL classes.
- Handspeak This site offers a sign language dictionary, a reverse sign language dictionary, and a ton of resources including ASL for kids, an ASL writing dictionary, ASL tutorials, and ASL/deaf culture resources, among others.
- LessonTutor This site groups words by theme, such as pets. Simple black-and-white sketches are paired with written explanations of how to make the signs.
- Signing Online This is a pay site that helps people learn sign language.
Online Sign Language Dictionary Sites
Who uses a sign language dictionary? Think of the times you’ve watched someone giving a speech or lecture while, nearby, another person used rapid movements of hands, torso, and face to “sign” what the person speaking was saying. Their use of sign language allowed deaf or partially deaf people to “hear” right along with you and everyone else.
People who use signing to communicate with those who have hearing problems need ways to build their vocabulary or find just the “right” word. Of course, that makes them no different from the rest of us except for where they look to find the “words” they need.
If you’re one of them, you can find the words you need on the Internet, in a sign language dictionary.
A number of websites offer drawings, pictures, cartoons, books, and videos to help you learn the proper signs for particular words.
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Spatial Grammar And Simultaneity
Sign languages exploit the unique features of the visual medium , but may also exploit tactile features . Spoken language is by and large linear only one sound can be made or received at a time. Sign language, on the other hand, is visual and, hence, can use a simultaneous expression, although this is limited articulatorily and linguistically. Visual perception allows processing of simultaneous information.
One way in which many sign languages take advantage of the spatial nature of the language is through the use of classifiers. Classifiers allow a signer to spatially show a referent’s type, size, shape, movement, or extent.
The large focus on the possibility of simultaneity in sign languages in contrast to spoken languages is sometimes exaggerated, though. The use of two manual articulators is subject to motor constraints, resulting in a large extent of symmetry or signing with one articulator only. Further, sign languages, just like spoken languages, depend on linear sequencing of signs to form sentences the greater use of simultaneity is mostly seen in the morphology .
Profanity In American Sign Language
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American Sign Language , the sign language used by the deaf community throughout most of North America, has a rich vocabulary of terms, which include profanity. Within deaf culture, there is a distinction drawn between signs used to curse versus signs that are used to describe sexual acts. In usage, signs to describe detailed sexual behavior are highly taboo due to their graphic nature. As for the signs themselves, some signs do overlap, but they may also vary according to usage. For example, the sign for shit when used to curse is different from the sign for shit when used to describe the bodily function or the fecal matter.
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Do Baby Signing Programs Boost Long
Overall, the evidence is lacking.
The very first studies hinted that baby sign language training could be at least somewhat advantageous, but only for a brief time period .
In these studies, Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn instructed parents to use baby signs with their infants. Then the researchers tracked the children across 6 time points, up to the age of 36 months.
When the childrens language skills were tested at each time point, the researchers found that babies taught signs were sometimes a bit more advanced than babies in a control group.
For instance, the signing children seemed to possess larger receptive vocabularies. They recognized more words.
But the effect was weak, and detected only for a couple of time points during the middle of the study.
For the last two time points, when babies were 30 months and 36 months old, there were no statistically significant differences between groups .
In other words, there was no evidence that babies benefited in a lasting way.
And more recent studies using stringent controls have also failed to find any long-term vocabulary advantage for babies taught to sign .
For example, Elizabeth Kirk and her colleagues randomly assigned 20 mothers to supplement their speech with symbolic gestures of baby sign language.
The babies were tracked from 8 months to 20 months of age, and showed no linguistic benefits compared to babies in a control group.
Tips For Teaching Baby Sign Language
Whether you opt for the spontaneous, do-it-yourself approach, or you want to teach your baby gestures derived from real sign languages, keep the following tips in mind.
1. You can start early.
Babies begin learning about language from the very beginning. They overhear their mothers voices in the womb, and they are capable of recognizing their mothers native language distinguishing it from a foreign language at birth.
Over the following months, their brains sort through all the language they encounter, and they start to crack the code. And by the time they are 6 months old, babies show an understanding of many everyday words like mama, bottle, and nose.
Many babies this age are also babbling repeating speech syllables like ma ma ma and ba ba ba.
If a 6-month-old baby says ba ba after you give her a bottle, could it be that shes trying to say the word bottle? If an infant sees his mother and says mama, is he calling her by name?
Its entirely possible. And as noted above, research suggests that many babies are speaking their first words by the age of 10 months.
So we might expect that babies are ready to observe and learn about signs at an early age even before they are 6 months old.
2. Introduce signs naturally, as a part of everyday conversation, and dont try to drill babies.
3. Keep in mind that its normal for babies to be less than competent. Dont pretend you cant understand your baby just because his or her signs dont match the model!
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Facial Expressions In Asl
Facial expressions also play a key role in sign language grammar. Our eyebrows frame how our sentences are stated.
In English, we must alter the words and their order to change a statement into a question. In ASL, word order does not matter since we use the eyebrows to indicate whether the sentence ends with a question mark, exclamation mark, or period.
When asking questions with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, and WHICH, our eyebrows move downward to indicate curiosity or inquiry, like in the image below. When we ask YES or NO questions, our eyebrows are raised.
The second purpose of facial expressions in ASL grammar is connected with emotional expression. When we sign HAPPY, SAD, or MAD, our facial expression must match the sign. This means that signing HAPPY with a sad face is grammatically incorrect.
Also, we use our faces to add emphasis to a sign. In English, if we want to reiterate the importance of a point, we could add the word very before important to provide emphasis. To show emphasis in ASL, we add facial expressions instead of an additional sign.
Furthermore, just like English, ASL does have a tone to it and that is the third purpose of facial expressions. For example, how many ways can you say the word fine and create a different meaning? You can be fine , fine , or fine .
What About Enabling Better Communication During Infancy Is It True That Babies Can Sign Before They Can Speak
This is an interesting idea, and it has been championed by advocates of baby signing programs.
The proposal is that babies are capable of communicating via sign language months before they are ready to communicate with spoken language.
Is there compelling scientific evidence for this claim? Once again, the answer is no.
The best evidence available on the question comes from a few, small studies of children raised to sign from birth. For example, two of the most relevant studies feature samples of fewer than a dozen children for a given age range.
In these studies, the average timing of first signed words appears to be a bit younger than the average timing observed for children learning spoken language.
But there is big problem. The sample sizes are just too small to draw any firm conclusions.
For example, one long-term study featured only 11 infants .
Another study relies on data collected from only a few individuals each age group for instance, just five individuals between the ages of 12 and 13 months .
When we use such small samples, we run a high risk of getting results that are skewed: Its relatively easy to end up with a group of individuals who arent representative of the population as a whole.
And this is especially true when there is a lot of individual variation, as is the case for the timing of language production. For instance, at 13 months of age, its normal for some children to produce as few as 4 words, while others might produce more than 80.
How Does Asl Compare With Spoken Language
ASL is a language completely separate and distinct from English. It contains all the fundamental features of language, with its own rules for pronunciation, word formation, and word order. While every language has ways of signaling different functions, such as asking a question rather than making a statement, languages differ in how this is done. For example, English speakers may ask a question by raising the pitch of their voices and by adjusting word order ASL users ask a question by raising their eyebrows, widening their eyes, and tilting their bodies forward.
Just as with other languages, specific ways of expressing ideas in ASL vary as much as ASL users themselves. In addition to individual differences in expression, ASL has regional accents and dialects just as certain English words are spoken differently in different parts of the country, ASL has regional variations in the rhythm of signing, pronunciation, slang, and signs used. Other sociological factors, including age and gender, can affect ASL usage and contribute to its variety, just as with spoken languages.
Fingerspelling is part of ASL and is used to spell out English words. In the fingerspelled alphabet, each letter corresponds to a distinct handshape. Fingerspelling is often used for proper names or to indicate the English word for something.
Sign Language Words And Grammar
ASL sentences use a topic structure. The topic of an ASL sentence is like the subject of a sentence in English. Using the object of your sentence as the topic is called topicalization. Often the topic of an ASL sentence is a pronoun, such as I, you, he or she. An ASL speaker may sign a subject pronoun at the beginning of a sentence, the end of a sentence or both. For instance, if you were to say “I am an employee” in ASL, you could sign “I employee,””employee I,” or “I employee I.” All three are grammatically correct in ASL.
The comment section of an ASL sentence is similar to an English sentence’s predicate – it says something about the topic. You might see a third element added to an ASL sentence structure to indicate the tense of the sentence. You would normally structure such a sentence as time topic comment. Depending on what you are trying to communicate and the style your receiver is used to seeing, you may alter the order of your signs for clarity. ASL grammar is not strict when it comes to sign order for time, topic and comment sections of a sentence, though many speakers feel that whatever order is least like English is the most appropriate. Expressing the time frame for the sentence at the end can be confusing — most speakers avoid it.
In the next section, we’ll talk about some basic rules of etiquette when conversing in ASL.
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But Surely There Are Situations Where Signing Is Easier Than Speaking
I think thats very likely. For example, the ASL sign for spider looks a lot like a spider. Its iconic, which may make it easier for babies to decipher. And it might be easier for babies to produce the gesture than to speak the English word, spider, which includes tricky elements, like the blended consonant sp.
The same might be said for the ASL signs for elephant and deer.
But most ASL signs arent iconic, and, as I explain here, some gestures can be pretty difficult for babies to reproduce just as some spoken words can be difficult to pronounce.
So its unlikely that a baby is going to find one mode of communication easier across the board.
Learning American Sign Language
Learning American Sign Language takes time, patience, practice, and a sense of humor.
If you are a parent of a newly-identified child who is deaf or hard of hearing, you can request ASL instruction from your childs early intervention system. Early intervention systems are designed to help your child develop in all areas. These systems also are designed to provide services to families so that families can support their child. More information is available at Sign Language for Parents.
Individual signs are relatively easy to learn. Like any spoken language, ASL is a language with its own unique rules of grammar and syntax. To learn enough signs for basic communication and to sign them comfortably, can take a year or more. Some people pick up signs more slowly than others, and if that is the case with you, dont be discouraged. Everyone learns sign language at their own speed. Be patient and you will succeed in learning the language. The rewards will be well worth the effort!
Other ideas include:* Community Centers for the Deaf* Speech and Hearing Centers* State Schools for the Deaf* Deaf Education programs within local mainstreamed schools* State Chapters of the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
When you dont know the sign for something, spell the word or words . When you discover there is no sign for a word, you should not invent or make up a new sign. To do so may violate the grammatical rules of ASL, or may be unintentionally offensive.
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Asl Sign For Sign Language
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Meaning: a language in visual-spatial modality used by Deaf people the opposite medium of vocal-aural modality used by hearing people.
Signed language is a term equivalent to spoken language. When using one of the terms in either spoken or signed forms, be aware of whichever modality or language you’re talking about.
ASL is a language rather than “a sign language” because ASL is a language, no less than spoken language as we don’t say English / French / other language is a “speech language” instead of “language”.
Another thing to deconstruct, people often say “I learned sign language”, “I know sign language a little”. Which language? Sign language. Which sign language? ASL. Okay. We don’t say “I’m learning a new speech language.” Right? Which speech language? French? Spanish?
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Quotations as Food for Thought:
“Sign language is a human right, it is not just an option. Not a privilege.” — Meme, 21st century.
“I cannot understand how a language like sign language – the richest in expressions, the most energetic, the most advantageous in its universal intelligibility is still so neglected and that only the deaf speak it. This is, I confess, one of those irrationalities of the human mind that I cannot explain.” — Pierre Desloges, 1779.