Read The American Sign Language Phrase Book Online

Authors: Lou Fant,Barbara Bernstein Fant,Betty Miller

The American Sign Language Phrase Book (8 page)

BOOK: The American Sign Language Phrase Book
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Facial Expressions

We have given our cartoon characters various facial expressions to emphasize the importance of facial expressions in ASL. The expressions are by no means the same all the time. The same sign will
require different expressions at different times, depending upon the feeling you wish to convey.

Some Dos and Don'ts

Try to avoid any bright light shining directly into the face of the person watching you. Bright lights are to deaf people what noise is to hearing people.

To get a deaf person's attention, gently touch the person on the shoulder. If the person is too far away to touch, wave your arm. Deaf people also get each others' attention by stamping their feet on a wooden floor or by turning a light switch off and on, but it is not recommended that hearing people do this. The manner in which these are done carry subtle meanings that are learned only with years of experience. If you stamped too hard or flashed the light too vigorously, for example, it might mean an emergency situation exists, which, if there really were no emergency, could lead to feelings of consternation.

Make sure you do not stand or sit in the middle of someone else's conversation. This often happens in a crowded room or when two deaf people are seated far apart from each other.

Avoid such nervous behavior as drumming your fingers on a table or tapping your shoe on the floor. If you do such things, the deaf person will constantly turn to look at you to see what you want. Deaf people are extra-sensitive to vibrations, so avoid making unnecessary ones.

A Guide to American
Sign Language

Copyright © 2008 by the Estate of Lou Fant and Barbara Bernstein Fant. Click here for terms of use


there are several sign systems that should not be confused with American Sign Language (ASL). These systems are ways of putting the English language into a manual-visual form; thus, they are called systems of Manually Coded English (MCEs). They are designed primarily for the purpose of teaching English to deaf children. An MCE uses the same signs that are used in ASL plus many new signs that have been created to serve special functions that do not exist in ASL. In an MCE the signs are arranged in accordance with the rules of English grammar. ASL, on the other hand, is not a way of coding English but rather a language in and of itself. It differs from English in many respects. This book is concerned solely with ASL.

Light, Sight, and Space

Most languages are based entirely on sounds, and herein lies the unique difference between spoken language and ASL. Instead of sound waves in the form of spoken words, ASL uses light waves in the form of signs. ASL is a visual-spatial language. One
ASL, and hearing plays absolutely no part in it. Because of this, ASL consists not only of signs made with the hands but also of facial expressions,
head movements, body movements, and an efficient use of the space around the signer. (In ASL the person "speaking" is the
, and the person "listening" is the
, or
.) ASL is not mime, although mime sometimes is incorporated into the language.

Sight Line

We begin the study of ASL with an understanding of how space is used. Imagine a line extending from the center of the signer's chest, straight out, parallel to the floor. This imaginary line is called the
sight line
. The sight line divides all space into the right or left side.

The Sight Line.

The Sight Line (three views)

Whenever the signer turns the body, the sight line moves with it.

One of the most frequently used signs is a simple point with the index finger. When the signer points parallel to the sight line toward the watcher, it means "you." When the signer points to his or her own chest, it means "I" or "me." When the signer points to the right or the left of the sight line, it means "he," "she," or "it."

Placement of Signs

People, places, objects, and events may be established or placed to the right and left of the sight line. Once this is done, the signer merely points to that space when reference to it is made. For example, as in the phrase depicted here, suppose the signer tells the watcher, "I saw your father yesterday. He was driving a new car."

I saw your father yesterday. He was driving a new car.

The signer makes the sign for "see" toward the right (or toward the left, if the signer is left-handed). This movement tells the watcher that the signer is about to say something about someone. Then the signer signs "father," and that tells the watcher who the someone

Yesterday I went to a restaurant, a movie, and a museum.

is. The watcher also now knows that "father" occupies that space to the right of the sight line because the SEE sign moved toward that space. The signer may now point right, and it means "he," and it will continue to mean "he" (father) until the signer places someone or something else in that space.

Placement of more than one person, place, or object in the same space at the same time may not be done, but placement in other spaces at the same time may be done.

For example, the signer may say, "Yesterday I went to a restaurant, a movie, and a museum." The three places are set up in three different spaces. Notice that the restaurant is nearer the signer, and the movie is farther out. Both may be to the right of the sight line, but they occupy slightly different spaces.

Avoid placing persons on the sight line itself. This space, with some exceptions, is reserved for the watcher. Any signs that move on or along the sight line have to do with the watcher, and no one else may occupy this area. An exception to this rule is illustrated by the following example:

BOOK: The American Sign Language Phrase Book
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