In my last blog, I discussed the hand placement/shape/orientation and movement of signs. I did not talk about culture or expression. A huge part of American Sign Language is visual components, not only hand movements. When you watch someone sign, you can understand a large amount of information through watching a person' face, body and arm movements. I will admit, as a nonnative signer, there are times when I may not understand all someone is signing to me. However, before I stop and ask for an explanation, I use context clues. I expect that my deaf/hh students use context clues in trying to fill in the pieces auditorally,so it is only appropriate that I do that ,as well. I look at a person's mouth movement or size, eyebrows,cheeks, eye gaze, body posture,etc. There is so much to be seen through this.
For example, I can sign. " I am sick" or "I am sick?" with the same signs. I need to keep my eyebrows status quo for a statement or furlough them for a question. Some "yes/no" questions you sign require you to raise your eyebrows. It is the finer details that make all the difference in ASL. I emphasize this from the beginning when I am teaching American Sign Language-again,it is not just about hand movements.
People often ask why ASL is not a universal language. There is,indeed, a universal sign language, but not many people use it. Just like USA has English and England has British English and there are differences, there are differences in signs. Languages are based on cultural components. In America, it is considered rude not to look at someone in the eye when speaking. In fact, if you are being reprimanded by your parent, one of the common things a parent will say is," Look at me when I am speaking to you." On the opposite end of things, children from Viet Nam this weekend told me if a parent is reprimanding them ,they are NOT allowed to look the parent in the eye. In fact,if they do,that is a sign of disrespect. This connects to language and sign language. ASL has components of looking at you in the eye when signing; that would not go well in Viet Nam.
It is important again to understand that ASL is not a mix up of hand gestures,but rather a language with grammar and culture and many minute components all rolled into one. Take a class in person,online, watch videos-open the door to a whole new world and enjoy the journey!
Allison Schley has been in the field of deaf and hard of hearing education for 20 years. She founded a nonprofit for families with hearing loss. She most recently wrote a children's book, entitled Forever Friends. This book shows the how a deaf dog and deaf boy teach the world that all kids are good and being deaf is okay.