An ASL Dictionary

Signing Savvy is a sign language dictionary containing several thousand high resolution videos of American Sign Language (ASL) signs, fingerspelled words, and other common signs used within the United States and Canada.

And Much More!

Signing Savvy is an ideal resource to use while you learn sign language. It includes the ability to view large sign videos, build your own word lists and share them with others, create virtual flash cards and quizzes, print signs, build sign phrases, ...and more

Sign of the Day - COUSIN
(as in either male or female cousin, gender neutral)

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The many facets of sign language

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, February 25, 2009

By John Miller

What is the difference between American Sign Language and other sign languages?

Sign language has many different facets to it. American Sign Language (ASL) is the language created and used by the Deaf in the United States, Canada, parts of Mexico, and some other parts of the world. ASL has a limited amount of signs, but it is the purest language from the Deaf perspective. If you are using strict ASL and interpreting English, you often fingerspell words for which there are no signs. ASL also has it's own language syntax, distinct from English (more on that in a future blog entry.)

Signed Exact English (SEE) and other variations (Manually Coded English, Pidgin, etc…) are also "sign languages" used by some in North America. These languages typically use ASL signs as the base but add a lot more signs to reflect a larger part of the English vocabulary. This is often done using initialization (letter handshapes as you sign) to help clarify a specific word that otherwise might just be fingerspelled or signed with a conceptual similar word by a user that uses strict ASL.

For example, there isn't an ASL sign for the words LEGISLATURE or CONGRESS, but you can sign the ASL sign for MEMBER using an initialized L-hand to mean legislature or the C-handshape to mean congress. In the example of the word LEGISLATURE, if signing using strict ASL you would fingerspell LEGISLATURE or sign the ASL sign for MEMBER and then fingerspell LEGISLATURE depending on your preference.

And yes, different parts of the world also have their own sign languages, just like there are different spoken languages. Currently, Signing Savvy focuses primarily on signs used in North America.

Regional signs and sign variations

There are also regional signs that you will see in different parts of North America. This is similar to the concept of regional accents in spoken languages, such as the southern drawl vs. the New York accent. Another example of regional variations in spoken languages is how in the north carbonated, sugary drinks are called "pop" and in the south, it is called "soda" or even just "coke." These same sort of regional accents and variations happen with signing, as well. Using one sign over another is not wrong... just different.

It is important to remember as you are learning that you are looking for concepts. There are often times that I, even as a fluent signer, may not catch every single word another person is signing to me but I get the gist of the conversation because I'm catching concepts; much like a speed reader who is skimming the page and catching the majority of the content.

At Signing Savvy, we have tried to include known variations of signs, along with how to fingerspell each word. As you communicate through sign with others in your region, you will find out soon enough what is the more accepted or used sign in your area.

An example of a word with multiple sign variations is HAPPY. As you can see in the image below, Signing Savvy provides 3 sign variations for the word HAPPY, along with the fingerspelled version.

image of Happy sign display

Same signs used for multiple words

Notice the sign for HAPPY can also be used to say CHEER, DELIGHTFUL, GLAD, etc. Once again, sign language is conceptual. The concept of happy is similar to the concept of the other words. It is much like synonyms in English. However, there are times that the same sign is used to refer to different concepts all together. For example, the same sign can be used to say CLEAN or NICE. In this case, it is the context the sign is used in that allows you to understand which meaning is intended.


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Signing Savvy Launches

Site News   |  Sunday, February 22, 2009

By Brian Winn

A little background

In 2005 we realized that, while there were a few good sign language resources on the web, there really was no site that provided a comprehensive reference for those learning sign language. The closest sites out there were the ASL Browser developed at Michigan State University and Signing Online. I was actually involved in the development of both these sites.

The ASL Browser was developed back in 1996-1997. At the time, the site was quite revolutionary. Digital video on the web was just in its infancy. We took the 2500 digital videos from the Personal Communicator CD-ROM developed by Michigan State University (winner of the Discover Magazine Software Innovation of the Year Award in 1995), organized them into a logical fashion, and placed them on the web. It has been the number one reference for American Sign Language on the web for over 10 years. However, it is now showing its age. The signs on the site are small, postage stamp sized videos (which was all that was possible when the site was created.) Further, the site lacks any search functionality or other interactive features, such as the ability to create word lists and print signs.

Signing Online was developed between 2000 and 2003. It is a wonderful series of online courses that teach American Sign Language. If you are looking to take a course and like the convenience of online instruction, I highly recommend them. Signing Online is primarily a set of courses, though. If you already are taking a course or if you already know some signing, what you really need is a reference tool.

Signing Savvy fills the void!

Signing Savvy contains a dictionary of several thousand high-quality video signs complete with sign description and English example sentences. You can find words by searching and by browsing by letter or a number of precompiled semantic word lists. Any word not in the dictionary can be fingerspelled. Best yet, like the ASL Browser, access to the video dictionary is provided free of charge! Our basic service is supported by ad revenue.

When working on Signing Savvy we realized that some of you require more tools and features to support your sign language learning. Therefore, we created a subscription-based member service. Membership adds the ability to view even larger, higher quality video, view video full-screen, print signs for reference off-line, build your own word lists, translate English phrases to a sequence of signs (based on the word order you type), view memory aids of signs, and more! You can preview some of these features by clicking on the link below the sign of the day.

It took us several years to get the site off the ground, but in January 2009 we launched!

What does the future hold for Signing Savvy?

While we already have several thousand signs covering over 5000 English words, we will be continually adding new signs each month, as well as new word lists. In addition to this blog, look forward to a discussion forum and other social networking features coming soon. We are also working on several new member services, such as the ability to quiz yourself or your friends.

Our goal is to be "Your Sign Language Resource!" Feel free to contact us and let us know your needs.


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