An ASL Dictionary

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Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same — Introductions

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same — Introductions

By Brenda Cartwright
Wednesday, May 4, 2022

This article is written by Brenda Cartwright (BC). Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher and a well known author. BC also contributes numerous blog articles for Signing Savvy. Look for them on the “Articles” tab on our website.

This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings.

The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the differences. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter.

These examples are all signs you may learn when first beginning to sign and are often used as common vocabulary when doing introductions.

1. Name vs. Weight

NAME and WEIGHT look similar, but you will notice the movement used is different across these two signs. It is an important difference you will want to sign correctly because when you are first meeting someone you want to say, “My name is…” and not, “My weight is…”

  • When signing NAME both hands are in the H handshape with the dominant palm facing the center with the top two fingers (index and middle fingers) resting on top of the fingers of the non-dominant palm facing the body.  The dominant hand taps on top of the non-dominant hand two times. Think of forming an X with your fingers as you form the sign and the X represents the place where a name is placed when writing a signature.
  • When signing WEIGHT both hands are in the H handshape with the dominant palm facing the center with the top two fingers (index and middle fingers) resting on top of the fingers of the non-dominant palm facing the body. The dominant hand makes a downward dipping motion. Think of the weight on a scale.

2. I vs. You

Both of these signs use the index finger to point at the subject. Although they use the same handshape and movement, it is easy to tell the difference between them because we commonly use these hand movements when speaking. Point at yourself when signing I and point at the person you are talking about when signing YOU.

3. You (also He and Her) vs. Your (also His and Hers)

Here’s where we get a little tricky with new signers and they quickly learn the importance of handshape and how using a different handshape will change the meaning of a sign. With both signs, you point toward your subject. Use the index finger to point when signing YOU and use the open B handshape when signing YOUR. Remember the sign for YOUR by thinking of pushing something toward someone to show that it is “yours” or belongs to them.

The sign for YOU is also used to sign HE and it is used to sign HER.

The sign for YOUR is also used to sign HIS and it is used to sign HERS.

4. Your vs. My

Now, if you can remember to use the open B handshape when signing both of these signs, you will be all set. The movement and directionality of these signs is the easy part to remember. As mentioned above, you can remember the sign for YOUR by thinking of pushing something toward someone to show that it is “yours” or belongs to them. You can remember MY by thinking of something you hold close to yourself.

5. My (also Mine) vs. I (also Me)

Similar to the differences between YOU or YOUR, the important difference between these two signs is the handshape. Both signs point toward your body. I uses the index finger and MY uses the open B hand.

The sign for I is also used to sign ME.

The sign for MY is also used to sign MINE.

6. Good vs. Bad

Just like MY and YOUR, with both of these signs, the dominant hand is in the open B handshape. The dominant hand, with the palm facing up, starts near the chin and and moves down into the palm of the non-dominant hand. The dominant hand moves straight down when signing GOOD, while it flips over and lands palm down into the non-dominant hand when signing BAD.

You can remember these signs by thinking of bowing down to show appreciation and thanks when signing GOOD and thinking of slapping down something bad when signing BAD.

7. Meet (as in “I met”) vs. Meet (as in “meet me”) vs. Meet (as in “they met”)

MEET is signed using a directional sign. Directional signs are signs that describe both the action and who performed the action. By changing the directionality of the sign, the meaning is changed. 

These three examples all show how to sign MEET, each with different meanings. 

  • MEET  (as in "I met"): The dominant hand moves away from your body and towards the non-dominant hand. In this sign your two hands in the 1 handshape represent people – the dominant hand represents you and the non-dominant hand represents another person. The dominant hand (you) moves towards the non-dominant hand (the other person) to sign you meeting someone.
     
  • MEET  (as in "meet me"): The non-dominant hand moves towards your body and dominant hand. In this sign your two hands in the 1 handshape represent people – the dominant hand represents you and the non-dominant hand represents another person. The non-dominant hand (the other person) moves towards the dominant hand (you) to sign someone meeting you.
     
  • MEET  (as in "they met"): Both hands begin at each side of the torso and move towards each other ending in front of the chest. In this sign your two hands in the 1 handshape represent people. They come together to sign two people meeting.

These examples show how small changes in position and movement change the meaning of what is being signed.

How can I figure out the difference between signs on my own?

If you see two signs that look close, but not the same, and you’re not sure, you may use Signing Savvy features to help you figure out the difference. All of our signs have sign descriptions and memory aids that members may access. Reading the sign description and memory aids for the signs will help you figure out the small differences between them that your eyes don’t catch at first. We also recommend using the pause and slow motion feature to slow down the video, so you may take a closer look. These features are available to Signing Savvy members.

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For 35 years Brenda was the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about BC  |  Articles by BC

8 Myths About Deaf People

8 Myths About Deaf People

By Marta Belsky and Brenda Cartwright
Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Myth: All deaf people that sign use the same sign language.

1. Myth: All deaf people that sign use the same sign language.

No, each country or region has their own sign language. Ironically, you would think in England, where they speak English, they would use the same sign language as us. Nope. They use British Sign Language... and Germany uses German Sign Language… and Russia uses Russian Sign Language… etc., etc.

Myth: The majority of deaf people have deaf parents.

2. Myth: The majority of deaf people have deaf parents.

Although, deafness can be hereditary, statistically, 90% of deaf people are born to hearing parents. Even if two deaf people have a child, there still is only a 1 in 4 chance that the child will be deaf. 

Myth: Most deaf people consider themselves disabled.

3. Myth: Most deaf people consider themselves disabled.

While hearing individuals may think of deafness as a disability, and some institutions may even classify it as such, most deaf people DO NOT consider themselves disabled. Deaf people can do anything but hear. They speak with their hands and listen with their eyes. Check out our "What is the correct terminology when referring to deaf people?" article for more details. 

All deaf people want to do everything they can to restore their hearing.

4. Myth: All deaf people want to do everything they can to restore their hearing.

First of all, there is currently no "cure" for deafness. It is true that some deaf individuals use hearing aids or cochlear implants to aid in their hearing. But there are limitations and drawbacks with both approaches. For example, a cochlear implant is an invasive surgery that is permanent and it doesn't always work as desired. What happens if better technology comes along in 20 years? This is just one of the reasons some deaf people are not interested in restoring their hearing.

Further, many deaf individuals feel they are part of a community and Deafness is their identity. Why would they try to change that?

Myth: American Sign Language is easy for deaf people to learn.

5. Myth: American Sign Language is easy for deaf people to learn.

ASL is not easy to learn, but it is fun! ASL has approximately 10,000 signs, which are used in combination and with fingerspelling. That is a lot to learn and, just like any language, it is not easy to master to the level of fluency! However, as a matter of comparison, the average English dictionary has 250,000 words in it. 

ASL is not easier to learn for deaf people than for hearing people. As with any language, the more you use it, the easier it becomes and the better you understand.

Deaf people are homogeneous with respect to communication skills and family background.

6. Myth: Deaf people have similar backgrounds and communication skills.

Deaf people are like all people: some love school, some hate school; some are gifted, some are learning disabled; some are black, white, Asian; some are rich, some are poor; some come from traditional families, broken families, and foster families. Everyone's backgrounds and situations are different.

Myth: Anyone that knows sign language can interpret for Deaf people.

7. Myth: Anyone that knows sign language can interpret for Deaf people.

The difference between an interpreter and a signer, is that a signer may choose the most familiar vocabulary words, the speed of the conversation, and the setting, whereas an interpreter, must facilitate between two languages, without stepping out of their role.

Interpreters:

  • Hospital (between a doctor and a deaf patient)
  • Courtroom (between a judge and a deaf person)
  • Calculus class (between a teacher and deaf student)
  • Church (between a preacher and deaf congregant) 

Signers:

  • Visiting a deaf friend in a hospital
  • Going out to dinner
  • Playing on the same volleyball team

Signers and interpreters are not all equally skilled. Interpreters need to be highly skilled otherwise they could cause damage.

  • Imagine if a signer tried to interpret in a hospital, it could mean life or death.
  • Imagine if a signer tried to interpret in a courtroom, it could mean prison.
  • Imagine if a signer tried to interpret in a calculus class, it could mean failing.
  • Imagine if a signer tried to interpret in church, it could affect their salvation.

This is why most states have rigid guidelines for interpreter certification.

Myth: The majority of deaf people are better lipreaders than hearing people.

8. Myth: The majority of deaf people are better lipreaders than hearing people.

Hearing people are actually sometimes better lipreaders because they are more familiar with the English language.

Fact: Only 30% of all spoken words are visible on the lips. The letters b, p, m are almost impossible to distinguish, for example, ban, pan, man.

The term lipreading is actually a misnomer. A more accurate term is speechreading. Speechreaders don’t just look at the mouth; they read the entire face, including the eyes, eyebrows, shoulder shrugs, posture, gestures, etc.

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About the Authors

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For 35 years Brenda was the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about BC  |  Articles by BC

Historic Academy Awards for the Movie CODA and its Cast and Crew

Historic Academy Awards for the Movie CODA and its Cast and Crew

By Julie Paes and Brenda Cartwright
Monday, April 18, 2022

Historic Wins

The 94th Academy Award presentations were held on Sunday, March 27, 2022, and shining brilliantly through the spectacle were historic victories for the movie CODA and its cast made up of predominantly deaf actors. CODA was nominated in three categories, and took home the awards for all three – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. 

  • Best Picture: CODA, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi and Patrick Wachsberger
  • Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur, CODA
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: CODA, Screenplay by Siân Heder

Award for Best Picture

CODA won the Best Picture award, a win that was a first for a "streaming service" film, since CODA was originally released only on Apple TV+ and not in theaters. This was a historic win for Apple, not only because they are the first streaming service to win this prestigious award, but also because Apple paid about $25 million for the exclusive, worldwide distribution rights for CODA after it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival. The $25 million deal was the highest amount paid for any Sundance film. The risk definitely paid off.

It was also a historic win for deaf people. Deaf actors held several of the leading roles, the storyline centered on a deaf family, and about a third of the dialogue was delivered in American Sign Language (ASL). CODA is the title of the movie, but it is also an acronym for Child Of Deaf Adult(s), and the CODA movie gives the viewer a small glimpse into Deaf culture through the perspective of the movie’s CODA, hearing daughter.

You can find the movie on Apple TV+, however, Apple has also released CODA in theaters to make it accessible to more people. CODA is shown in theaters with open captions to be fully accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. Open captions are captions viewable to all viewers without having to turn them on. Don’t wait if you want to see it because like all movies, it will only be in theaters for a limited time. Check your local theater for show times.

Award for Best Supporting Actor 

The award for Best Supporting Actor went to CODA’s Troy Kotsur who made history as the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar. Kotsur gave a moving speech delivered in ASL as he accepted the award. Dedicating his award to the Deaf community, the CODA community, and the disabled community, Kotsur said, "This is our moment." Troy Kotsur received several other honors by other nominating organizations such as the Screen Actors Guild and the Critics’ Choice Awards for his role in CODA. He is the second deaf actor to win an Academy Award, following in the footsteps of his CODA co-star, Marlee Matlin, who was the first deaf Oscar winner for Best Actress in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God.

As a seasoned actor, especially on the stage with The National Theatre of the Deaf, and Deaf West Theatre, Troy Kotsur had worked and wished for good acting roles on screen. Due to the lack of opportunities for deaf actors in Hollywood, he almost gave up on acting as a career, just before landing his role in CODA.

Award for Screenplay and Scrappiness!

CODA’s writer-director, Siân Heder took home her first ever Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Heder, a Massachusetts-born filmmaker, was approached by producer, Philippe Rousselet, about adapting a 2014 French film, La Famille Bélier, into a film for the US audience. That film would become CODA. The journey from development to Oscar winning film was far from easy. Heder first cast deaf actor, Marlee Matlin in a leading role. With Matlin on board, the casting search continued. However, the studio that had originally agreed to finance the film wanted big-name actors in the cast. Besides Marlee Matlin, deaf actors had not been given the chance or the roles to become Hollywood stars, and Heder and Matlin refused to hire hearing actors for the deaf roles. Production was halted for months.

Heder explained in an interview with the BBC, "Deafness is not a costume you can put on. And there are so many aspects to that culture and experience you can't play, unless you've lived it."

The team finally secured independent financing, and Heder was able to hire the actors she really wanted. She cast Troy Kotsur (who had previously appeared in Scrubs and CSI) as Matlin’s on-screen partner. Heder’s tenacity paid off and helped pave the way for recognition and inclusivity of deaf and hard-of-hearing actors. 

Heder started learning ASL to be able to communicate most effectively with her cast. In Troy Kotsur’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, he pointedly thanked and complimented Siân Heder for her skilled and effective communication, calling her "the best communicator" and saying, "you brought the deaf world and the hearing world together, and you are our bridge."

Applause in Moving Form

With the announcements in the Dolby Theatre of the CODA award winners, the audience stood to wave their hands, giving the American Sign Language version of applause. The moving sea of respect and appreciation for the artistry of the movie, the actors, writers, directors, and producers, were shining moments in the Academy Awards program.

Keep Rolling…

Other recent films that have featured deaf characters are:  

  • Audible (2021) – Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Audible follows the moving story of a Deaf football player and his teammates at Maryland School for the Deaf as they face adversity on and off the field. You can find the movie on Netflix.
  • Eternals (2021) – The 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals introduces Marvel’s first Deaf superhero, Makkari. Makkari was played by Deaf actress Lauren Ridloff. You can find the movie streaming on Disney+.
  • A Quiet Place, Part 1 (2018) and Part 2 (2020) – A post-apocalyptic horror film where a family must be quiet so blind monsters with an acute sense of hearing cannot hunt them. ASL is a central theme of the movie and is portrayed as an asset for survival. Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds plays Regan, the deaf daughter. You can find the movie where you rent movies.
  • Sound of Metal (2019) – Nominated for six Academy Awards for 2021, and won in two categories: Best Sound, and Best Achievement in Film Editing. The other nominated categories were: Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Riz Ahmed), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Paul Raci), and Best Original Screenplay. Sound of Metal is a highly acclaimed film about a drummer who quickly begins to lose his hearing. The leads are hearing actors. Some minor characters were played by Deaf actors (Lauren Ridloff, Chelsea Lee, Shaheem Sanchez, Jeremy Lee Stone, and some extras). You can find the movie streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

The Future is Bright

With CODA’s breakthrough Academy Award wins, a very bright light is shining on Troy Kotsur, bringing his and his co-workers’ talents into the spotlight, as well as the hopes of the Deaf community. In an interview with the BBC, Marlee Matlin said, "A lot of people will be thinking about deaf actors now, thinking of ideas, scripts and collaborations… It's amazing that finally our movement has been heard and we've broken through all the barriers. People are appreciating us and honoring us — it's wonderful."  She added: "It's been a long time coming. Thirty-five years I've been waiting to tell people that there are deaf actors out there eager to work."

One of the clear messages of the movie, CODA, is the importance of working through differences with love to bring people together. The actor, Emilia Jones, who plays the hearing daughter in a deaf family, said, "I had so much to learn for this movie. The film is about a culture and a family that’s rarely seen on screen.  And it’s giving people an insight into a culture. I knew nothing about Deaf culture before I went into this movie. But it’s also teaching people that no matter what language you speak, or where you’re from, love is love."

Talent, heart, and love cross all cultures.
 

Special Note: Co-Author Brenda Cartwright is a proud CODA.


Resources

  1. Aljazeera. (2022, March 28). Oscars 2022: ‘CODA’ Wins Prize for Best Picture.  https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/28/coda-wins-oscar-for-best-picture
  2. Apple. (2022, March 27). Apple’s “CODA” Wins Historic Oscar for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2022/03/apples-coda-wins-historic-oscar-for-best-picture-at-the-academy-awards/
  3. IMDb. (2021). Sound of Metal (2019) Awards. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://m.imdb.com/title/tt5363618/awards/?ref_=tt_awd
  4. Jones, E. (2021, August 13). Coda: ‘Deafness Is Not a Costume You Can Put On,’ Says Film Director. BBC.  https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-58058653
  5. Jurgensen, J. (2022, March 27). Troy Kotsur of ‘Coda’ Wins Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The Wall Street Journal.  https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/oscars-academy-awards-2022
  6. McIntosh, S. (2022, March 28). How the Feel-Good Film CODA Caused an Oscars Upset. BBC.  https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-60825096
  7. Now This News. (2022, March 28). CODA's Troy Kotsur Wins Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co6Da7f9-nE
  8. Renata, C. [The Curvy Critic]. (2021, June 27). Nyle DeMarco and Matt Ogens Talk Deaf Football and Audible [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKlU2LtxydA

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