Authors: Lou Fant,Barbara Bernstein Fant,Betty Miller
The signer first establishes the book, then points to it. When placing things on the sight line that have no reference to the watcher, place them near the signer and be sure to point to that space.
In a spoken language, the rise and fall of the voice adds meaning to the words spoken. The various ways one can say "I love you" illustrate the importance of vocal inflection. The characteristic rising of the voice toward the end of a question is another example. In ASL, the face has these duties and supplies additional subtleties and nuances of meaning. Signs have meanings in and of themselves, just as words do, but these meanings are altered, shaped, enriched, and amplified by facial expressions. A face that is devoid of expression is to a deaf person the equivalent of a monotone speaker—boring and difficult to follow.
Facial expressions in ASL are especially important when asking questions. In general, when one asks a
sign question (who, what, why, where, when, which, and how) the eyebrows usually go downward.
All other questions usually cause the eyebrows to move upward.
These are not rigid rules, and you may sometimes see something different, but these rules do generally apply. That the eyebrows will move up or down, however, is a certainty when asking questions.
The signer must learn to be expressive with the eyes and mouth as well as with the eyebrows. The eyes will open wide or squint to narrow slits; the mouth will open and close; the lips will purse and stretch; the cheeks will puff out; and even the tongue will sometimes protrude.
Body language is an essential element of ASL. Information is communicated not only by the face but also by the head, shoulders, torso, legs, and feet. The head may tilt forward, back, or to the side, especially when questions are asked.
The shoulders may shrug; the body may bend forward and backward and twist.
The incorporation of the whole body into the expression of sign language is absolutely required for clear, understandable communication. It is possible, of course, to overdo the matter, but it is better
to err on the side of doing too much than too little. Deaf people are often described as animated, alive, vibrant, etc. This is due to their mastery of body language. For successful communication, you must do likewise.
For additional practice in facial expressions, body language, and the use of the hands to express ideas and convey information, I suggest the book and videotapes produced by Gilbert Eastman entitled
From Mime to Sign
One of the most difficult tasks in learning a new language is conjugating verbs in their various tenses. The struggle with regular and irregular verbs tries the student's patience to the utmost. It is, therefore, a pleasure to inform you that such is not the case with ASL. Learning to place actions in the past or future is comparatively simple.
No tenses are incorporated in the signs themselves. Tense is conveyed by using signs that tell when an action takes place, and these particular signs are called
. In English, for example, one may say, "I saw you." In ASL, the sign SEE is always made the same way whether it means "see," "sees," "seeing," "saw," or "seen":