Throughout my study of ASL thus far, one key element that has come up several times is the importance of recognizing and understanding registers. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, in linguistics, register simply refers to the degree of formality when communicating in a certain language, and it is not limited to just sign language. All languages have distinct registers and, in fact, we practice a balance of these different registers in our every-day lives. For example, if you were to compare an email written to a teacher or a boss with a text sent to a friend, there would likely be a huge contrast in the language used. That is a prime example of your everyday register. Similarly with the English language, this importance of registers also translates over to ASL.
The American Sign Language consists of five key registers for communication:
- Frozen – frozen is a rare form of signing intended to be used in only the most formal of occasions (i.e. weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, anthems), It is typically signed at a slower pace than conversational signing with careful attention to detail.
- Formal – formal signing is more common among those who practice ASL, but is still purposefully, as the name describes, formal. Formal signing would likely be the way in which experts, scholars, or public speakers would communicate.
- Consultative – Consultative signing is yet another professional and formal register used in ASL, although one step down from formal signing. Keeping in mind its name, this register is most commonly used during consulting (i.e. doctors, lawyers, teachers).
- Casual – Casual signing is the most common form of communication using ASL. It is used in almost all social and informal settings (i.e. restaurants, parties, or at home).
- Intimate – This register is almost exclusively used among family members or those that share a deep personal connection and this register consists of inside jokes and name signs (I will create a separate post about the significance of name signs in the future)
Although all 5 of these registers accommodate unique and specific events, ASL registers can really be boiled down to formal and informal signing. As can be seen in the video attached at the top, I practiced a more consultative way of signing “hello” during my formal introduction at the beginning; however later, I included that I was also taught a more casual greeting in “what’s up”.
Ultimately my point is that, as I have learned, registers not only play a crucial role in shaping the communication of ASL and the culture of those who practice it, but in understanding the use of registers, they can actually serve to connect ASL with other spoken languages. Despite being opposites in nature, visual vs. spoken, ASL isn’t actually that isolated from languages as the hearing community practices them.