An ASL Dictionary

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ASL Syntax

ASL Syntax

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, May 21, 2014

By Marta Belsky and Christopher Greene-Szmadzinski

In addition to having its own vocabulary, American Sign Language also has its own grammar and syntax that differs from English.

Just like English, every ASL sentence consists of a subject and a predicate.

Signing (and Grammatical) Terminology

Subject - The noun or noun phrases in the sentence. Describes the main focus of the sentence - the person, place, thing, idea, or activity.

Predicate - A predicate can be a verb, a noun, an adjective, or a classifier. The predicate contains the words or signs that describe the action preformed by the subject or that say something about the subject.


The basic, uninflected, word order of ASL is subject, verb, object.

The basic, uninflected, word order of ASL is subject, verb, object.

For example:

  • BOY CHASE CAT
  • I LOSE MY BOOK

Signing (and Grammatical) Terminology

Uninflected - Uses basic grammatical structure without any changes so that is does not express grammatical functions or attributes.


There are many ways to inflect the meaning of sentences.

There are many ways in which a person may inflect their sentences. For example, in English a person may say "The boy chased the cat" or "The cat was chased by the boy". The second example is of an inflected sentence using the "passive voice" rule. Both of the sentences are correct, they just represent different ways of communicating the information.

In the same way, an ASL user may use topicalization or a rhetorical construction to inflect an ASL statement.

For example:

  • BOY CHASE CAT (uninflected)
  • CAT BOY CHASE (topicalized)

There is a required non-manual signal in inflected ASL sentences.

Signing (and Grammatical) Terminology

Inflect / Inflection - Inflection is done to emphasize a word or subject or to indicate a grammatical attribute such as tense, mood, person, number, case, or gender.

Passive voice - The passive voice is used when the action is not being done by the noun.

Topicalize / Topicalization -  Topicalization causes a subject, word, or phrase to be the topic of a sentence. Often, the subject/object is stated first when topicalizing.

Rhetorical construction - Constructing signs to effectively deliver a message.

Non-manual signals - Non-manual signals are facial expressions or body positions used to convey meaning while you sign.


There are three types of ASL verbs.
 

  1. PLAIN verbs are always signed the same, no matter who is performing the action
     
  2. INDICATING verbs (sometimes called "directional" verbs) change based on either the subject doing the action, or where the action is taking place
     
  3. DEPICTING verbs (sometimes called "classifiers") show what things look like, where they are in space, or how things behave

Unlike in English, all verbs in ASL must always be directly preceded by the subject (ie, who is doing the action). Some examples are listed below. In all of the examples, the subject and verb are connected and cannot have signs appear between them - this is signified by a line between the subject and verb (_).

  • The verb LOVE is a "plain" verb.
    English: "I love books."
    ASL: I _ LOVE BOOK (uninflected)
    ASL: BOOK I _ LOVE (topicalized)
     
  • The verb HELP is an "indicating" or "directional" verb.
    English: "I am helping my sister."
    ASL: ASL: I _ HELP MY SISTER (uninflected)
    ASL: MY SISTER I _ HELP (topicalized)
     
  • The verb CL:3 is "depicting" or a "classifier"
    English: "The car is next to the man."
    ASL: CAR _ CL:3 (in space) MAN _ CL:1 (in space)

Notice, in all of the above sentences, the subject (the person doing the action) always directly precedes the verb. The following sentences would be unintelligible in ASL:

  • BOOK LOVE I
  • HELP MY SISTER I
  • CL:3 CAR

ASL syntax is a complex topic and it takes knowledge and practice to master. Did this article help? Still have questions? Post a comment below.

 

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Tweet Explained: Why not to buy manual alphabet cards from peddlers

Tweet Explained: Why not to buy manual alphabet cards from peddlers

General Interest   |  Tuesday, May 13, 2014

By Marta Belsky

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.

We are constantly posting tips, facts, and learning resources related to sign language and Deaf culture on our Twitter @SigningSavvy.  Occasionally we get questions about our tweets and explain them further with a followup article, like this one.
 

@SigningSavvy Tweet:


Explained:

Peddlers who pass out cards with the manual alphabet like to frequent high traffic places like airports and coffee shops and cafes in big cities.  Peddlers appear to be uneducated, unskilled and unemployable — a victim of society. In truth, some of these peddlers are very clever. By preying on gullible hearing people, a successful peddler can earn quite a bit!  

The majority of Deaf people are hard-working taxpayers who bitterly resent the stereotype that these peddlers perpetuate.  For years Deaf people have spent time and energy educating the public and trying to undo negative, demeaning perceptions of the Deaf. Most damaging is the fear that strikes the heart of a mother or father whose child has just been diagnosed as deaf and thinks “Is my daughter or son going to become one of t-h-e-m?”

There is a big difference between buying something from a peddler on a sidewalk and being psychologically pressured into “paying any price you wish” or for an ABC card by someone who comes up to you in a public place.  ABC cards aren’t a legitimate product. They’re a gimmick. Selling them is a con game. Kind hearted hearing people who really want to learn the manual alphabet to communicate with Deaf people shouldn’t have to pay through the nose for it.  If you truly want to “help deaf people” there are many good ways to do it:

  • Buy a ticket to a Deaf theater performance.
  • Contribute to a Deaf school fundraiser.
  • Buy books by Deaf authors.
  • Buy art by Deaf artists.  

Sadly, many of these “deaf” peddlers aren’t even deaf. They’re hearing people faking deafness. As proven time and time again when a person approaches them and asks in fluent American Sign Language (ASL), “Why are you doing this?” Watch them make a quick escape!

Have you been approached to purchase a manual alphabet card before? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

Let us know whenever you have a question about one of our @SigningSavvy tweets and we would be happy to explain it further.  Just ask us on Twitter for clarification or use our contact form.

 

 

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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

Interpreter Q & A: Interpreter Credentials

Interpreter Q & A: Interpreter Credentials

Interpreter Tips   |  Tuesday, April 29, 2014

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the "Dear Abby" for the interpreting world - 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 will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

Dear BC,

It just so happens that I’ve been collecting interpreter business cards for a long time now and I’m convinced that anyone and everyone these days can call themselves an "interpreter" without any credentials to back up their claim. Truth be told, our consumers aren’t always familiar with all our acronyms and the terminology we use for certification levels, so they can be easily misled. Here are some examples of titles I have in my collection from non-certified "interpreters" out there:

  • "ASL Interpreter"
  • "State Certified Interpreter"
  • "ITP Graduate"
  • "Freelance Interpreter"
  • "Interpreter for the Hearing Impaired" and my favorite… "Hearing Impaired Interpreter"… this was a hearing person!

Sincerely,
Concerned Interpreter

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

"Consumer Beware!" That’s really what they should print on their business cards, although I doubt we will ever see it. One of the reasons I’m a strong proponent of licensing is the need to establish standards and ensure that only qualified people are practicing in the interpreting profession. Many hearing consumers and even some Deaf consumers don’t know what it takes to become qualified. As more states get on the bandwagon with licensure I believe this problem will start to disappear. In the meantime, we need to continue to educate consumers so they can make an informed choice when it comes to interpreting services.

Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

First of all, I would ask the interpreter if he or she has certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). If so, what kind of certification, and when? If he or she has no certification then I would ask where they got their training from and who their teachers were. If this person did not attend an interpreter training program, then I would discuss the importance of getting formal training, certification and state laws out there requiring it. If this person was assigned to me from an agency, I would inform his or her supervisor about my concerns and suggest they not utilize this person in the future.

Have you experienced this problem too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
 

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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 the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about BC  |  Articles by BC

ASL glossing and conventions

ASL glossing and conventions

Learning Tips   |  Sunday, April 13, 2014

By Marta Belsky and Christopher Greene-Szmadzinski

Since ASL is a visual-gestural language, not a spoken consecutive language, it can only truly be recorded in video and not captured in writing. Many writing systems have been developed for ASL, but none of them have reached a critical mass, probably because it is difficult to capture handshape, location, palm orientation, movement and non-manual signals in a written word. For that reason, when scribing ASL, many people rely on the linguistic convention called "glossing," which means writing a word in your native language for each sign that appears. This is not a perfect system, but it can be useful when discussing the syntax of other languages, signed or spoken.

Signing Terminology

Glossing - Writing a word in your native language for each sign that appears. ASL is not a writen language, so glossing is not a translation, but a description of what was signed, including signs used, important body language, and accepted glossing symbols.


When writing an English gloss for an ASL sentence, conventions are followed.

Here are a few glossing conventions that are commonly used:

  • Signs are capitalized, such as BOY, HOUSE, ME
  • Words that are fingerspelled have dashes written between the letters, such as M-A-R-Y, D-O-G, S-A-L-E
  • Classifiers are written as CL: handshape, such as CL:3 (vehicle), CL: 55 (feet), CL: CC (telephone pole)

Signing Terminology

Classifiers - A classifier is a combination of a classifier handshape and movement root that are made to reference whole phrases with a single sign. First a signer will sign the subject, then they can use a classifier to describe something about that subject - what it looks like, where it is, how it moves or behaves.

These are not all of the conventions, these are only a few. What other ASL conventions do you know? Share them in the comments below.

 

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Signing Savvy announces new Sign Language Advisory Board

Site News   |  Monday, March 24, 2014

By Jillian Winn

When we set out over six years ago to create Signing Savvy, we had a vision to create the most comprehensive online sign language resource for educators, interpreters, students, or anyone interested in American Sign Language. Recently, we formed a Sign Language Advisory Board. The advisory board advises Signing Savvy on sign language matters and provides guidance to help Signing Savvy accomplish the company's mission and goals.
 
The growing Sign Language Advisory Board is made up of thought leaders who have a deep subject manner expertise in sign language and are leaders in their respective fields. Our goal is to have a diverse advisory board with various backgrounds and experience to provide a wide range of advice and expertise. We are happy to announce our first three advisory board members:
 

Marta Belsky

Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 20 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is interested in working with Signing Savvy to help share American Sign Language with people across the country, she said “It is important to me that people learn the language the ‘right’ way and learn about Deaf Culture at the same time – you can’t have one without the other!” Learn more about Marta…
 

Brenda Cartwright

Brenda 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 the last 30 years Brenda has been the Director of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan. Brenda hopes to help improve Signing Savvy while using it as a resource for her interpreter training program. Learn more about Brenda...
 

R. Ben Roux

R. Ben Roux has a background in advocacy, Information Technology and software development. He is the Advisory Board Chairman of the City of Boston Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities. Ben is interested in working with Signing Savvy because he is committed to advocacy and service to others, especially the deaf, hard of hearing and people with disabilities. These initiatives are particularly meaningful to Ben as he is profoundly deaf. Learn more about Ben...
 
 
Together with these thought leaders we will continue improving Signing Savvy.  Watch for future blog articles from our advisory board members and for upcoming announcements from us on improvements being made to Signing Savvy based on feedback from them.  As always, we welcome suggestions and feedback from you, our members and users.
 
 

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