Feelings and Mouthing Movements in ASL

This week, I continued using ASL Deafined, specifically spending most of my time learning about how to sign certain feelings (tired, cold, hungry, etc). Of course, expressing feelings is crucial across languages, and is often one of the first things children learn how to do, but it’s really interesting to see these emotions conveyed through a visual language. Learning how to sign these feelings really reinforced what I already knew, but wasn’t careful about doing, in signing – that you NEED to use different facial expressions! To put this into a more understandable context, if one were to sign with a blank face, that’s just about equivalent to mumbling in spoken language.

Although I knew of the importance of facial expressions, one thing that actually was new for me was learning and seeing how mouthing words can be used. This was really surprising for me as ASL isn’t actually a spoken language, so why would mouthing be used so frequently? What I learned when I looked into this further is that mouthing is REALLY important for interpreters, and slightly less important but still used among others within the deaf community. The most interesting thing I came across during this research was that mouthing can actually create a new meaning, not just add to a preexisting sign. Like with the sign “not yet”, where the mouth gesture is actually part of the sign itself. Check it out:

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ASL Deafined

I finally signed up for ASL Deafined! Being one of my first ideas when I started putting together my proposal for this independent study, I’m surprised it took me so long to subscribe, but I finally did it. This week, I’ve spent a lot of time just starting to navigate all of the different videos, features, and lessons offered by the website and it has been really great to have a different approach to learning. I was previously studying primarily through YouTube channels, which was great, but since transitioning more towards ASL Deafined, I’ve found that it’s much easier and more fun. The website offers tons of ways to learn and then quiz yourself on your knowledge and that has been a great way to strengthen my studying and track my progress so far.

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Eyebrows in ASL

I started this week with the initial goal to continue my study of high frequency signs in ASL and report back here with some of the cool ones that I learned. However, as I have found happens often throughout the self-learning process, that aim changed relatively quickly once I started getting into this week’s practice. When I was learning more in depth about question signs, I noticed that eyebrows actually play a huge part in communication. As I already knew, facial expressions are very important in signing, but what I wasn’t aware of was that this becomes especially clear when it comes to eyebrows and different types of questions. We all, at one point or another, have subconsciously raised our eyebrows in regular conversation, however in ASL, this action is very purposeful when specifically asking a yes or no question. And the same goes for furrowed eyebrows. Though typically, when I first think of this expression, I imagine it to be motivated by anger, in ASL, furrowed eyebrows are used when simply asking an open-ended or “wh-” question (who, what, when, where, why). Though this pretty much covers the basics of eyebrow facial expressions, one exception that I also found interesting was that when asking a rhetorical “wh-” question, eyebrows should actually be raised, not furrowed.

Boston University Facial Analytics

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High Frequency Words

This week, I learned a lot more high frequency words in ASL. Some of these included learning the difference between “your” and “you”, and learning how to sign “student” and “teacher”. There were many more, but I thought these were pretty cool and relevant. Also, something interesting that caught my attention was that I inadvertently got some insight into different dialects as I was practicing through Youtube. Although I initially was taught to sign “who” by essentially drawing a circle around my mouth (check out the video a couple blogs back that shows me signing this), I recently learned a different way of signing this from Dr. Bill Vicars. Additionally, this week I noticed that the grammar structure of ASL is far different from the other 2 languages that I study, and that has been particularly frustrating – so keep an eye out for a post from me at some point about this grammar structure if you’re interested!

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Intimate Register & Name Signs

In continuing the discussion about registers from my last post, I mentioned that I would create a separate blog post to delve further into understanding the intimate register of ASL, as it is far more important than it may seem!

On the surface, the intimate register is a way of communication used in casual settings among friends, family, or anyone with whom you share a deep connection. Although this description is 100% accurate, it’s also somewhat incomplete as the intimate register also covers other important types of signing, specifically, name signs.

But what are name signs?

Name signs are an aspect of ASL used to identify someone without fingerspelling their name each time. Instead, many people will often use either the first letter of someone’s name or something that can be associated with that person, and even sometimes both. For a better understanding, check this out:

Verywell | Brianna Gilmartin

But why are name signs so significant?

Name signs aren’t solely just a way of identification. The reason they hold such importance in in ASL and all sign languages as a whole is because receiving a name sign is a definite indication that one is an essential part of the Deaf community. Basically, not just anyone can be given a name sign by pure fascination with the idea of them because in actuality, they represent a much more intrinsic part of Deaf culture.

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Register in ASL (Informal v. Formal Signing)

signs from the week

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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).
  5. 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.

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Thank you so much for visiting my blog! As this is my first post regarding my study of American Sign Language (ASL), I wanted to introduce myself and my motivation for this project before anything else.

My name is Will Lindsey, I am a sophomore at Durham Academy, and as of the new year, I am participating in our school’s independent study program! Independent Studies offer an alternative learning outlet for students, particularly those who wish to investigate a subject that may not be offered by the school. In my case, this was ASL. Durham Academy currently offers four different language courses — Chinese, Spanish, Latin, and French — but unfortunately ASL is not one of these options.

In addition to being presently enrolled in both Spanish and Chinese, my passion for language extends even beyond that and encourages me to pursue ASL. As someone who has always been fascinated by the study of languages, I am especially excited to compare the differences and similarities between spoken and visual languages. In addition to my study of the language itself, I’m thrilled to couple that with a study of the evolution and cultural significance of ASL, along with the struggles faced by those who practice it. I have so many questions that I can’t wait to investigate, like how nuances, emotions, or slang can be expressed using ASL or how ASL compares to LSE (Spanish Sign Language) or CSL (Chinese Sign Language).

As I begin this journey, I hope you’ll consider subscribing and joining me throughout my study of ASL!

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