An ASL Dictionary

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Sign of the Day - COOK
(as in verb, to cook)

Blog Articles in Category: Learning Tips

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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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 Thank You

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, December 10, 2013

By John Miller

 
We have had many people ask about signing THANK YOU to family and friends, and also giving thanks to God during this holiday season. In the case of THANK YOU to family and friends (or kind strangers!), you will want to sign the normal thank you gesture by moving your open flat hand out and down from your face, but do so in the direction of the person you are thanking.  You can remember the sign for thank you because it is similar to blowing someone a kiss when you want to thank them (and just like blowing a kiss, you would do it in the direction of the person you are thanking). 
 
Thank You
 
Remember that facial expressions are also important in conveying your message, so have a “thankful” or “happy” face (you can never go wrong with smiling!).
 
If you are giving thanks to God, you will want to use two hands to do the thank you gesture up towards the sky / heaven, gesturing to God. 
 
Thanks to God
 
 

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Holiday Sign Extravaganza

Learning Tips   |  Monday, December 9, 2013

By Jillian Winn


Tis the season to be jolly!  Below are several holiday-oriented signs and word lists to help celebrate (or at least communicate about) the holidays in sign.
 

Holiday Signs

 
We WISH you many BLESSINGS this HOLIDAY SEASON, including HEALTH, HAPPINESS, time spent with FAMILY and FRIENDS, and PEACE, LOVE, and JOY.
 
 

Santa Claus Signs

 
Have you been NAUGHTY or NICE this year? Make sure to hang your STOCKINGS and put out MILK and COOKIES for SANTA CLAUS
 
 

Christmas Signs

 
CHRISTMAS is the celebration of the BIRTH of JESUS and the close of ADVENT. ANGELS proclaim him a savior and SHEPHERDS came to adore him. WISE MEN followed a STAR to BETHLEHEM to bring Jesus GIFTS.
 
 

Chanukah / Hanukkah Signs

 
The EIGHT DAY festival of CHANUKAH, also know as the FESTIVAL of LIGHTS, COMMEMORATES the MIRACLE of OIL by lighting CANDLES.
 
 

Kwanzaa Signs

 
 
 

Make Your Own Holiday Word List

 
With Signing Savvy membership you can create your own custom word lists (and practice them with flash cards and quizzes), so if we don’t have a pre-built word list exactly how you want it, you can build your own.

 

 

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10 signs to know for Thanksgiving

Learning Tips   |  Sunday, November 24, 2013

By Jillian Winn

 

#1 Thanks / Thank You

This is what Thanksgiving is all about – giving THANKS for all of your blessings. Don’t forget to say THANK YOU when the gravy is passed! You can also see this sign in the WonderGrove Kids Use Polite Words animated lesson.

 

#2 Turkey

TURKEY is the most common main dish of Thanksgiving dinner and sometimes Thanksgiving is called “TURKEY Day.”

 

#3 Ship

In 1620, the Pilgrim SHIP called the Mayflower made the historic voyage from England to the New World. The Mayflower brought about 150 people to North America – 102 passengers from Holland and London plus the SHIP’s officers and crew.

 

#4 Pilgrim

The first Thanksgiving was a feast in 1621 at Plymouth Colony between the PILGRAMS and the Wampanoag, a Native American tribe.  The PILGRAMS left England seeking religious freedom and were early settlers of the North American colony called Plymouth Colony (present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts).

 

#5 Pumpkin

In addition to turkey, the first Thanksgiving feast included waterfowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, squash, and PUMPKIN.  Many of these foods, with the exception of the seafood, have become a part of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  Many people include PUMPKIN in their Thanksgiving meal by making PUMPKIN pie.

 

#6 Nuts / Pecan

Although not one of the foods included in the first Thanksgiving feast, NUTS have become a popular snack during Thanksgiving time and PECAN pie is a favorite Thanksgiving dessert for many.   The sign for NUT can be used for all types of NUTS. To be even more specific, use the sign for NUT and then fingerspell the name of the NUT you are talking about.

 

#7 Pie

Rather your favorite is apple, pecan, pumpkin, or sweet potato, make sure you know how to ask for more PIE!

 

#8 Hungry / Appetite

Talking about all this food is making me HUNGRY! The same sign can be used for HUNGRY and APPETITE. Bring your APPETITE to Thanksgiving dinner and surely you will not leave HUNGRY. You can also see this sign in the WonderGrove Kids Use Polite Words animation.

 

#9 Family

Thanksgiving is extra special when spent with FAMILY and friends. Our FAMILY and friends are an important part of what we are thankful for.

 

#10 Appreciate / Appreciation / Appreciating / Please

Giving thanks is all about APPRECIATING what we have, including the people in our lives that make it special. Make sure to show your APPRECIATION for others and you can also use this sign to say PLEASE. You can also see this sign in the WonderGrove Kids Use Polite Words animated lesson.

It’s hard to pick only ten signs to know for Thanksgiving! There are so many things that people do during Thanksgiving, including EAT, VISIT family, watch FOOTBALL, watch the Thanksgiving Day PARADE, SLEEP, SHOP, and more.  Full Members of Signing Savvy can see our Thanksgiving Word List to learn more signs, practice the signs using the flash cards and quizzing features with the pre-built word list, or create your own word list of Thanksgiving signs.

 

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