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Living Loud: Andrew Foster – Pioneer Missionary, Educator, Mentor, and Advocate for the Deaf

By Brenda Cartwright  |  Thursday, August 22, 2019

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She contributes blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

Andrew Foster was the first African-American to earn a Bachelor of Arts from Gallaudet University. He ultimately set up 32 schools for the deaf in Africa. Because of this, he is known as the “Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet” of Africa and the “Father of Deaf Education in Africa.”

Andrew Foster
Portrait of Andrew Foster. (Photo Credit: Gallaudet University. Andrew Foster: Visionary Leader - May 2014.)

Foster was born on June 27, 1925 in Ensley, Alabama. His father Wiley was a coal miner and World War I veteran and his mother Veline was a homemaker. He was the oldest of their four children. When he was 11 years old, both he and his brother contracted spinal meningitis and became deaf. Growing up he didn’t have access to much education because he was deaf and black. He went to the Alabama School for the Colored Deaf, as schools were segregated in Alabama during this time and education for African Americans was only offered through sixth grade. The only way for Foster to continue his schooling past sixth grade was for him to move to Flint, Michigan with his aunt. He attended the Michigan School for the Deaf, which went to eighth grade. Then Foster took correspondence courses and finally received his high school diploma in 1951 at age 26. It was during his time in Michigan that he went to Bethany Pembroke Church every week and learned about missionary work.

He applied and had been rejected several times to Gallaudet College due to his race, but he finally became the first African American accepted to Gallaudet in 1951. He was given a full scholarship and in 1954 was the first African American to graduate from Gallaudet. The Gallaudet president at that time, Leonard Elstad, encouraged Foster to pursue his dream of becoming a missionary.

In addition to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Gallaudet, he obtained two master’s degrees. In 1955 he was the first African American to earn a master’s degree from Michigan State Normal College, which is now called Eastern Michigan University. His master’s degree was in Education and he earned a second master’s degree in Christian Mission from Seattle Pacific College in 1956… that’s 3 degrees in six years!

“ In that day, the deaf will hear the words of the book.
     -
Isiah 29:18, 
       Andrew Foster's
      Favorite Bible Verse

He established the Christina Mission for Deaf Americans, now known as the Christian Mission for the Deaf, in 1956 in Michigan. Foster went on to do speaking tours in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Western Europe, and 25 African nations. His favorite Bible verse was Isiah 29:18 “In that day, the deaf will hear the words of the book.” He knew in order to understand the Bible and become saved, the deaf first needed to be able to read. His passion was to educate the deaf to be literate – to read, write, and sign. He used the Total Communication method of using sign language, fingerspelling, speech, speech reading, writing, and more. He was especially an advocate of using visual language and visual learning for teaching deaf children.

In 1957 Foster arrived in Africa. During that time, not only were there no churches for the deaf, there were only 12 schools for the Deaf on the entire continent. School administrators and hearing missionaries told Foster deaf children didn’t exist in Africa. Perhaps they even believed these false narratives because the culture was so oppressive of deaf people that parents would keep them hidden at home. In remote villages, some deaf children were thought to be cursed by demons and were abandoned to be eaten by wild animals. Throughout his life he would preach, “Tomorrow may be too late!” He worked steadfast to convince local education officials there were many deaf children and that they had a moral obligation to provide them with opportunities.

Andrew Foster teaching
Foster teaching a geography class in Ibadan, Nigeria in 1960.
(Photo Credit: Gallaudet University. Andrew Foster: Visionary Leader - May 2014.)

The first Deaf school he set up was in Osu, which is a suburb of Accra, Ghana; it was held in a borrowed classroom of a Presbyterian church. He later received a donation of a building and land that he used to set up a permanent residential school in Mampong-Akwapim. Shortly after opening the school, it was filled to capacity. The school housed approximately 80 children, as well as some adults. He was the director of the school until 1965.

Andrew and Verta Foster
Andrew and Berta Foster dressed in traditional Nigerian wedding fashion. (Photo Credit: Gallaudet University. Andrew Foster: Visionary Leader - May 2014.)

Foster married a deaf German woman, Berta, in 1961 in Nigeria, they had met at the Third World Congress of the Deaf in 1959. They had four sons and a daughter together. With Berta’s help, Foster established another 29 schools.

Foster trained teachers, taught students, advised government officials about the need for more schools for the deaf, and educated the public about the needs of Deaf Africans. Due to Foster’s efforts Gallaudet welcomed their first generation of students from Foster schools in Africa.

In 1970 Foster earned an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet in Humane Letters. He received the Man of the Year award in 1962 from Alpha Sigma Pi and the Edward Miner Gallaudet Award from Gallaudet College Alumni Association in 1975. He also received alumni awards from his other alma maters: the Alumni Honor Award from Eastern Michigan University in 1980 and the Medallion Award from Seattle Pacific University in 1982.

Tragically, Foster passed away in a small plane crash traveling to Rwanda in December of 1987. The plane suffered from mechanical problems and none of the 13 passengers survived. They are all buried near the crash site near Gisny, Rwanda.

Andrew Foster with students
Foster with students and teachers at his mission school in Goma, Congo, in 1985. (Photo Credit: Gallaudet University. Andrew Foster: Visionary Leader - May 2014.)

The Christian Mission for the Deaf continues to carry on Foster’s dream of establishing more schools for deaf people in Africa. The National Black Deaf Advocates donated a bust of Foster, sculpted by Virginia Cox, to Gallaudet and established the Andrew Foster Endowment Fund. Gallaudet also established the Dr. Andrew Foster Merit Based Scholarship for students. Gallaudet University renamed and dedicated their auditorium the Andrew Foster Auditorium in October 2004 to recognize his role as “Father of Deaf Education in Africa.”

Dr. Foster started more deaf schools than anyone in the history of deaf education. The hundreds of deaf children who have learned to read, write and communicate carry on his legacy.

Resources

  1. Camp, Ted (2011, September 22). A Tribute to Andrew Foster. Silent Word Ministries. Retrieved from: https://www.silentwordministries.org/2011/09/22/the-written-word-a-tribute-to-andrew-foster/

  2. Eastern Michigan University: Alumni Achievement Past Recipients. Retrieved from: https://www.emich.edu/alumni/engage/events/achievement_past-recipients.php

  3. Fikes, R. (2018, December 25). Andrew Jackson Foster, II (1925-1987). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/foster-andrew-jackson-ii-1925-1987/

  4. Foster, Dr. Andrew (n.d.). Roots Out of a Dry Ground. Christian Mission for the Deaf. Retrieved from: http://www.cmdeaf.org/resources/articles-by-dr-foster/roots-out-of-a-dry-ground

  5. Gallaudet University. (2014, May). Visionary Leader: Andrew Foster. Retrieved from: https://www.gallaudet.edu/about/history-and-traditions/andrew-foster

  6. Nicholas, Darrick F. Andrew Foster, “the deaf will hear the words of the book.” African 
    American Registry. Retrieved from: https://aaregistry.org/story/andrew-foster-the-deaf-will-hear-the-words-of-the-book

  7. Seattle Pacific University: The Medallion Award. The Seattle Pacific University Magazine. Retrieved from: https://spu.edu/depts/uc/response/spring2k3/medallion.html

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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

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 11

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 11

By Brenda Cartwright  |  Thursday, August 1, 2019

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She contributes blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

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.

Hello! Brenda Cartwright (BC) here. Let's continue on the fun topic of: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

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 difference. 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. Enjoy!

1. Several vs. Few

SEVERAL and FEW both start with the S handshape on the non-dominant side of the body and then move across to the dominant side of the body ending in a W handshape when signing FEW and a 4 handshape when signing SEVERAL. You can remember FEW ends with the W handshape because the word FEW ends with a W. FEW ends in the W handshape, which has 3 fingers out, while SEVERAL ends in the 4 handshape, which has four fingers out because SEVERAL is more than a FEW.

These signs originated from the French sign for PLUSIEURS (several). The extension of the fingers in the sign originally followed the French counting system and symbolized counting several items.1

2. Use vs. Get Used To

There are many times when an English word may have multiple meanings and when there are multiple meanings, often there are multiple signs to represent each meaning. A common example of this is with the English word “fly” - fly can have multiple meanings and there are different ways to sign each meaning. Signing Savvy uses what we call our “as in” to differentiate between meanings. There are three versions of fly in the Signing Savvy dictionary and they all use different signs: FLY (as in "fly in an airplane”), FLY (as in "the insect”), and FLY (as in "a bird flying”)USE is an another example where it’s important to think about the meaning because to USE something is not the same as to GET USED TO something.

USE (as in "to use or utilize") is signed with the U handshape moving in a clockwise motion on the back of the non-dominant hand. You can remember a U handshape is used because USE starts with the letter U. This sign is also used to say WEAR in English. Some people find it confusing that the same sign is used for USE and WEAR, but the origin of this sign from the French sign for HABITUDE (habit) helps explain the dual usage. The French words habitude (habit), usage (use), utile (useful), and utilizer (use) have related meanings, which is why the sign was used to mean USE. "The alternative meaning of ‘wear’ likely stems from the false association of the English word habit with the French word habit (clothes)."1

USE (as in "to get used to") is signed the same as CUSTOM or TRADITION - the hands move down to the waist as the top, dominant hand closes from an open 5-handshape to a S-handshape. The downward movement while signing GET USED TO shows consistency. 

USE (as in "to use up”), USED TO (as in "used to or in the past”), and USED (as in "second hand") also have different meanings, and use different signs, from the examples of USE (as in "to use or utilize") and USE (as in "to get used to") shared in this comparison. USED TO (as in "used to or in the past”) is also shown in the next comparison below.

3. Long Ago vs. Used To

The signs for LONG AGO and USED TO (as in "used to or in the past”) are an example that shows emphasis matters. LONG AGO has a bigger movement to show it was farther in the past than when you are talking about something you USED TO do.

4. Introduce vs. Invite

These signs both use open B handshapes, however, INTRODUCE uses two hands and INVITE uses one. 

When signing INTRODUCE, think of the two hands as representing bringing two people together and they are introduced. 

The sign for INVITE (as in "to invite someone") also can be used to mean EMPLOY, HIRE, INVITATION, GREET, and WELCOME. Think of the one-handed motion as a welcoming gesture when making an offer, rather it is of greeting or employment. This sign is also a directional sign. The hand would move away from the body if you were asking to be invited. See the sign INVITE (as in, "to invite me”).

5. Problem vs. Difficult

PROBLEM and DIFFICULT are similar because they both use two hands in bent V handshapes. This "double hooked handshape is used in a family of signs to convey notions of hardness, both physical and mental."1 In addition to PROBLEM and DIFFICULT, the signs for HARD (as in, "difficult”), and BONES (as in, "bones in the body”) use this handshape. 

The sign for DIFFICULT, with the up and down hand movement, is almost identical to the French sign for PIERRE (stone), which originated from the old French sign for DUR (hard).1 When signing DIFFICULT, think of the symbolism of the handshape and how this sign evolved from the meaning of something being hard.

When signing PROBLEM, think of the two hands colliding as they are encountering a problem or difficulty. You can also think about trying to fit puzzle pieces together to solve a problem. This sign may have evolved from the French sign for PROBLÈME (problem, difficulty) and the related sign COMPLICATION (complication) where the hands fold and refold together. "The metaphor of ‘folding something to complicate it’ motivates the French word compliqué (complicated), which comes from the Latin complicare (fold)."1

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

If you see two signs that look close, but not the same, but you’re not sure, you can use Signing Savvy features to help you figure out the difference. All of our signs have sign descriptions and memory aids that members can access. Reading the sign description and memory aids for the signs can 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 can take a closer look. These features are available to Signing Savvy members.

Take a look, it's in a book!

These examples are aligned with the Visual Discrimination section of Lesson 7 (page 85) from Lessons and Activities in American Sign Language by Brenda E. Cartwright and Suellen J. Bahleda. Check out the book for more ASL Activities and watch for more examples from this series: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”

Resources

  1. Shaw, E. & Delaporte, Y. (2014). A Historical and Etymological Dictionary of American Sign Language. Washington: Gallaudet University Press.

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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

Living Loud: Robert Panara – Pioneer of Deaf Studies, Author, Historian, Poet, and Teacher

By Marta Belsky  |  Monday, July 15, 2019

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

This article is part of our "Living Loud" series, which highlights famous people who are deaf or hard of hearing and their impact in the world.

Dr. Robert F. Panara was much more than just a member of the Deaf community, he was an author, historian, poet, and a worldwide authority on deaf figures in literature. While these are all notable achievements, his biggest achievement was being a pioneer of Deaf Studies - the first deaf professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) and founder of both the NTID Department of English and NTID’s Experimental Education Theatre program.1, 3

Robert Panara Quote
Robert Panara’s poem, “On His Deafness,” won first prize in the World Poetry Contest in 1988.
(Photo Credit: NTID Performing Arts.)

Early Life

Robert Panara, who went by the name Bob, was born on July 8th, 1920 in The Bronx of New York City, but according to an article in The Economist his life did not start until January 19th, 1931 when, at the age of 10, he became deaf after contracting spinal meningitis on his mother’s birthday. The meningitis caused blurred vision, temporary loss of feeling in his arm, and damage to his auditory nerves. It was not until a nurse had attempted to speak with Panara that they realized the illness had caused deafness.2

Finding a Passion for Deaf Studies

“ What the world needs today is more teaching that comes from the heart and soul and not of the coldly conservative and somewhat reticent mind.
     -
Robert Panara

Growing up Panara attended a mainstream school and would rely on fellow students to help him with taking notes. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, he learned American Sign Language in Hartford, Connecticut at the American School for the Deaf. In 1940 Panara started working on his bachelor’s degree at Gallaudet University. During his time at Gallaudet, Panara published several papers that helped establish him as one of the pioneers in the deaf education field.1 One paper specifically, “The Significance of the Reading Problem,” articulated his views on teaching methods. Panara believed that “what the world needs today is more teaching that comes from the heart and soul and not of the coldly conservative and somewhat reticent mind.” This would set the tone of his teaching style in the future.1

Panara graduated from Gallaudet in 1945 and went on to earn a master’s degree in English from New York University (NYU). He was the first deaf person to earn a master’s degree from NYU.1 He would later have many more achievements just like this one.

Robert and Shirley Panara
Shirley and Robert Panara. (Photo Credit: NTID Performing Arts.)

Panara met his wife Shirley at a wedding and they got married in 1947. She was a deaf librarian, teacher, coach, sports enthusiast, and even played the drums on occasion. She was the first deaf librarian at the Library of Congress. They had a son, John, and two grandchildren.3

Panera taught at the New York School for the Deaf and then was hired to teach at Gallaudet University in 1948, where he taught for nearly 20 years. Then he joined the newly formed National Technical Institute for the Deaf (part of the Rochester Institute of Technology) and taught and was an administrator there for another 20 years.7

Robert Panara and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf

Robert Panara
Robert Panara (Photo Credit: RIT/NTID via Washington Post)

As a pioneer of deaf studies, Robert Panara helped change the life of many people in the deaf community. An article in the American Annals of the Deaf stated, “In 1965, he was invited by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, John W. Gardner to serve on a national advisory board for the establishment of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID).” That experience would later lead to him being hired as the first deaf faculty member at NTID in 1967.1 He also was the founder and first chairman of NTID’s Department of English.3 During his time at NTID he would receive multiple awards and honors, but one of his most notable would be founding the NTID Experimental Education Theatre program as well as being one of the founding members of the National Theatre of the Deaf.1

Robert and Shirley Panara receiving award
Robert Panara receiving an award in 1988 at NTID with his wife Shirley. (Photo Credit: NTID.)

Panara created a form of production that could be accessible equally for both Deaf and hearing audience members. This would be not only for the audience, but also backstage and on-stage. Alongside the NTID drama club members, he was able to use “experimentation and imagination” as one of the foundations of the productions. They created bodies of art that enriched lives of the thousands of attendees. A 500-seat auditorium was built in his honor in the early 1970’s and would open as The Robert F. Panara Theatre on October 3rd, 1974 with the first production taking place in the space being Shakespeare’s play Taming of the Shrew. The theatre has hosted famous guests such as Phyllis Frelich, Marlee Matlin, Bernard Bragg, American Deaf Dance Company, Jane Fonda, and many other notable entertainers.6 This was a huge honor for Panara that brought awareness and artistic growth to the Deaf Community.

The Robert F. Panara Theatre was not the only honor Panara was given during his time at NTID. Other awards include: RIT Founders Award, the RIT Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching, and the NTID Student Association Outstanding Staff Award (McGrain, 2014).

Robert Panara US Stamp
A U.S. stamp was issued in honor of Robert Panara on April 11, 2017 as part of the Distinguished Americans series.  (Photo Credit: USPS)

He was even honored with being the subject of a United States Postal Service stamp. The stamp is the 16th in the Distinguished American’s series. Robert’s son John stated, “I’m very proud to see my dad honored and Deaf culture recognized in this way, and I want to thank the personnel at the USPS Stamp Development Office for all their work in the design process.”5 This was a great honor not only for Robert, but also for NTID and the Deaf community.

Leaving a Legacy

Panara died on July 20th, 2014 at the age of 94.2 Friends and colleagues described his positive perspective on life as well as the way he engaged with his students as admirable. In an interview with Harry Lang, NTID professor emeritus, Lang states that “his work [with the NTID drama club] helped the actors show the beauty of American Sign Language and opened minds and doors in so many ways. He had a true talent for translating the most complex of subjects, like Shakespeare, into ASL.”1 Lang was not only one of Panara’s colleagues, but also a close friend. It is clear that his impact on the Deaf community was influential.

Thanks to his many contributions to NTID and his many publications during his time at Gallaudet which demonstrated his focused teaching methods, Robert was named a pioneer of deaf studies.1 His legacy will live on and his place in the Deaf community will be forever remembered.

Biography About Robert Panara

Books by Robert Panara

  

Robert Panara Stamps

Resources

  1. McGrain, V. (2014). In Memoriam: Robert F. Panara. American Annals of the Deaf 159(4), 313-314. Gallaudet University Press. Retrieved from Project MUSE database https://muse.jhu.edu/article/561759

  2. Obituary: Robert Panara. (2014, August 1). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/obituary/2014/08/01/robert-panara

  3. Our History. (n.d.). NTID Performing Arts. Retrieved from https://www.ntid.rit.edu/theatre/our-history

  4. Gallaudet Museum (2016, May 4). Unveiling of Panera Exhibit [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.gallaudet.edu/museum/exhibits/the-life-of-robert-panara/panara-exhibit-unveiling

  5. RIT/NTID founding faculty member Robert Panara to be immortalized on postage stamp. (2016, November 23). National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Retrieved from https://www.rit.edu/ntid/parentnews/2016/11/23/ritntid-founding-faculty-member-robert-panara-to-be-immortalized-on-postage-stamp/

  6. Robert F. Panara Theatre (n.d.). NTID Performing Arts. Retrieved from https://www.ntid.rit.edu/theatre/facilities/panara-theatre

  7. Stamp: Robert Panara (2017, April 11). USPS. Retrieved from https://store.usps.com/store/product/buy-stamps/robert-panara-S_114004

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About the Author

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

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