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

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Blog Articles by: John Miller

The difference between ASL and English signs

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, September 7, 2010

By John Miller

One question many new signers ask me is: "What is the difference between ASL signs and English signs?" and "What does it mean to have an initialized sign?" These are two really good questions. It is important to understand the difference, particularly when signing to a member of the Deaf community.

Some background information

You may have noticed that sometimes people are referred as deaf (little d) and other times as Deaf (big D). This is done for a specific purpose. People that are deaf have partial or complete hearing loss. Deaf (big D) people are not just deaf by way of auditory definition, but culturally as well. They are usually born deaf. They don't normally use their voice when they sign. Many of them may also choose not to use hearing aides, cochlear implants or any other sound enhancing devices, even if they may get hearing benefit from them. They instead choose to use sign language as their primary mode of communication. Through sign they utilize interpreters in order to communicate with the hearing world.

Most deaf people; whether big D or little d, do NOT like to be referred to as Hearing Impaired. Instead they want to be identified as Deaf or Hard of Hearing, depending on their degree of hearing loss.

I give you this brief history just to give you some background before answering the ASL verses English question. This topic can become very involved and very political and we at Signing Savvy are not wanting to lose our focus of being a sign language resource for all, so we choose normally not to get too involved in these kinds of debates.

ASL signs vs. English signs

ASL (American Sign Language) is a complete, unique language developed by deaf people, for deaf people and is used in its purest form by people who are Deaf. Being its own language, it not only has its own vocabulary, but also its own grammar that differs from English.

Signed Exact English is a system to communicate in English through signs and fingerspelling. Signed Exact English, in most cases, uses English grammar (that is, you are signing English). The vocabulary is a combination of ASL signs, modified ASL signs, or unique English signs.

The reason English signs often vary from ASL is to add clarity to the sign so that the exact English word meant for the conversation is understood. One example would be the sign for CAR. In ASL, the sign for CAR is two A hands gesturing like they are holding onto and moving a steering wheel. In ASL, this sign is used for any automobile you control with a steering wheel, including a car, truck, bus, van, etc. The English sign for CAR is two C hands, one on top of the other, moving away from each other. If you wanted to specify what type of car, the hand shape is modified to include the initial of the type of vehicle (c for car, v for van, b for bus, j for jeep, etc.).

This is where the term "initialized sign" comes from. You clarify the meaning by initializing the sign with first letter of the intended English word. Therefore, using the English version allows one to specify exactly what is communicated in English. In ASL, you would just use the ASL sign for car and if it was important to clarify the type of vehicle, you would follow the sign with a fingerspelling of the vehicle type (JEEP, for example). This is just one example. There are many other examples.

Just as many ASL signs are used in Signed Exact English, members of the big D Deaf camp have accepted some English signs. However, some are still not accepted, and if you use them in your everyday signing, could be frowned upon by the Deaf. It is best to watch and ask if you are in doubt.

What type of signs does Signing Savvy include?

Since Signing Savvy is first and foremost a dictionary, we have decided to include the most common variations (both ASL and English) on the site so that you see that they do exist. Since ASL is the preferred language of the Deaf community, the ASL sign is almost always listed as the first version unless the word does not have an ASL sign for it. To determine if the sign is ASL or English, look below the video to see the sign type (available on most signs). If you are a registered guest or full member, the sign description tells you if it is an initialized sign. Remember that most of the time if the sign is an initialized sign, then it falls under that English category.

 

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Directional Verbs

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, July 28, 2010

By John Miller

There are a group of verbs that are often referred to as Directional Verbs. These are also known as Indexical verbs or Verb Agreement. These verbs do just what the term suggests; they show directionality. They do this by using an element of motion that indicates one or more referents (see post on Setting Up People, Places, and Things for more on referents). These verbs can be used pretty simply by setting people up, then using direction to show who is doing what to whom.

I will give you some examples to make it clear using the word/sign SHOW.

  1. First you set up someone on the right, lets say DAN, by fingerspelling his name on the right side of your signing space.
  2. Then you set up someone on the left, lets say JACK, by fingerspelling his name on the left side of your signing space.
  3. Then just by using the sign SHOW and moving from the area on the right, to the area on the left, you are signing DAN SHOWED JACK.
  4. If you went from the left to the right, you would be saying JACK SHOWED DAN.

Once again, the act of moving the sign gives the meaning of whom is doing what to whom. Other directional verbs include borrow, give, see, pay, invite, help, send, and bite.

Directional/Indexical signs can be very fun to use and make your message so much clearer when used properly.

Happy Signing!

 

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Setting Up People, Places and Things

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, July 28, 2010

By John Miller

The use of space is a very important feature in American Sign Language. The way to be able to refer back to different people, places or things (referents) is to use the space around the signer. You do this by setting up the space. This is done in a three dimensional manner. It can be done in the space to the left or right of the signer, in front of the signer, in a semi-circle around the signer, or in rare cases behind the signer.

The signer establishes the person, place or thing by identifying them within the sign space, and then leaving them there (in space). The signer can then refer back to that specific space every time they are talking about that referent. Other signers in the same conversation can also refer to and use this sign space once it has been established (set up).

The setting up of the space can happen a few different ways:

  1. A person, place or thing can be fingerspelled in a certain location.
  2. You can make a sign in that location.
  3. A sign classifier can be signed in that location.
  4. The use of a directional verb can be signed toward a certain location.

One rule of thumb is to never set up more than six referents in any one conversation. Even that can be too many if there is going to be a lot of information associated with each. The proper use of space can make your signing much clearer and easily understood when done following these rules.

Happy Signing!

 

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Making signs plural or in the past tense

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, July 14, 2010

By John Miller

We have received several emails asking how to make signed words plural or showing if something happened in the past, as well as having emphasis to show desire.

There are a few different ways to do this:

  1. One way to show an emphasis or plurals is to repeat the sign. For example, if you are wanting to say “He wants that really bad!” You would sign WANT+WANT+THAT+HE. That double use of the sign want shows that he really wants it. You would NOT sign the word bad because it has a different meaning in this sentence. The double signing of want also makes it a plural.
  2. Showing something happened in the past can be done by making a gesture of throwing it over your shoulder. This is using the sign space that refers to the past. (Use the 5-hand with the palm facing backward, moving in a backward direction).
  3. You can also sign FINISH after a sign to show that it happened in the past. For example, if you want to say "He wanted to go." You could sign GO+HE+WANT+FINISH.
  4. There is an English signing method that has you add the S or ED or ING ending to the words but this is not as widely used and is actually frowned upon by most people who use American Sign Language. The more appropriate method is to determine what is meant and translate it accordingly. For example, if you want to say "He is left wanting." You could sign HE+WANT+MORE+STILL.

Happy Signing!

 

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Fourth of July Signing Celebration!

Site News   |  Tuesday, June 15, 2010

By John Miller

Independence Day

Signing Savvy wants to help celebrate Independence Day by offering a 7/4 celebration. You get a SEVEN-day trial membership FOR-FREE!

Check out the membership features like LARGE video, ability to build your own word lists (and view other members' shared word lists), quiz yourselves, as well as the one of a kind print feature!

To access your trial, login to your account (or create a registered guest account if you do not have one) and go to the trial offer page.

Happy Fourth of the July from Signing Savvy!

 

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