ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library | Volume 1, Issue 15, October 2004 | William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor


In a message dated 9/15/2004 8:48:15 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
<< My daughter asked me about ASL the other day - is it better to learn Spanish and THEN ASL?  Or ASL and then Spanish?>>
It depends if you ask an ASL teacher or a Spanish Teacher.  ;-)
If you've ever watched the process, you will observe that beginning level Spanish teachers tend to use a considerable amount of mime and gesture to teach Spanish.
Which is to say they are using "visual communication" to teach Spanish without using English.
Therefore if you were to take a course in a visual gestural language (such as ASL) prior to taking a spoken language course (such as Spanish) you would be much better prepared for the second course than someone would be who took the spoken language course first (Spanish first and then ASL).  Why?  Because Spanish teachers often use aspects of ASL to teach Spanish.
I have yet to see (in America) an ASL teacher using any aspect of Spanish to teach ASL.

In a message dated 9/16/2004 2:04:05 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars,
    With interest I probed several signs on the online ASL dictionary on
your website "ASL University".  It certainly serves a quick, easy to access
resource.  However, I find myself in disagreement with the words set aside
for the sign CHINA, particularly "Older sign: CHINESE/CHINA".
They refer to the traditional ASL sign for CHINA.
    Frankly, the sign that evokes the buttons on certain Chinese clothes is
not legitimately an ASL sign because of its origin outside U.S.A.  It is a
borrowed sign; it takes time for borrowed words to be accepted as part of a
native language (though in this era of modern, instanteous communication,
length of time to nativate foreign words may be shorter now).
   Yet, your website passes it as an ASL sign.  I do not think it is
linguistically correct to consider this sign as an ASL sign, and I find it
presumptous to call the native ASL sign "old".  It deserves to be considered
"a native ASL sign".  The word "old" invokes a negative association
therefore it is not a neutral, unbiased word.
   Yours respectfully,
   John Hemingway.
Hi John,
Thanks for sharing your feelings with me.  The fun thing about "living languages" is that they are always evolving and changing. You might want to consider that many English words originated in other countries, were "grafted" into English, and are now commonly considered to be part of the English language. The same process takes place in ASL. Whether a sign becomes accepted or not, only time will tell.
As a result of your feedback, I've modified the "Chinese" page content by referring to the new sign as a "loan" sign and the "old" sign as the "traditional" sign.
Part of the page now states states:
"CHINA:  Point at your upper left chest area then draw a large (backward) 7.  (Note: your finger doesn't actually have to touch your body on this sign.) Memory hint: Think of the buttons on certain styles of Chinese clothing.
 Note:  This sign is a "loan sign."  It has been borrowed from Chinese Sign Language. Many people feel it is more respectful to Chinese people to use their sign when referring to China. This sign is becoming increasingly popular in America."
Dr. Vicars

In a message dated 9/16/2004 8:04:09 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Hi Dr. Vicars,
I preparing to teach a basic sign course to a home schooling co-op. The students will range from six to sixteen years old and a few kids know a bit of sign.  My background in Sign Language is: two years training toward being an interpreter at  a community college (Sinclair Community College, Dayton Ohio).  Before my children came along I had several hearing impaired friends and attended a Deaf Church.  I'm out of practice and a bit nervous about the class, so you website has been a huge help! 
Not all of my students can use the web, so I need a book that can be reproduced for my classroom.  Would your book "Sign Me Up!" work?  If you have any other suggestion please let me know.  Most of these families wouldn't be able to purchase the book (I wish they could, for both our sakes!), so any ideas would help.
Dear rshank1,
You are welcome to purchase a copy of my book (Sign Me Up!) and then make any number of reproductions as long as you don't sell the reproductions for more than the cost of the reproduction.
You are also welcome to print and reproduce any of the pages from my website in your classes.
Additionally, you might be interested in the "workbook" that contains the vocabulary and practice sentences. It can be downloaded from:
Dr. Vicars

In a message dated 9/16/2004 8:48:12 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
In the practice sentences, on sentence refers to "my old boyfriend". Would I sign "past" to reference "old" or the actual sign for old?
Thanks again,
Great question.  You would sign:
"He used to be my boy friend."  = "HE MY BOYFRIEND, PAST-(back when)." 
"My ex boy friend."  = "MY EX BOY FRIEND." (Use for previous serious relationship."  Yes, you literally spell E-X by forming a modified (two finger on thumb) "E" and then raising the index-knuckle.)
"My old boy friend..."  = "MY OLD BOY-FRIEND."
Believe it or not, all three versions are out there and are widely used.
There are many who will argue whether or not it is appropriate to use "OLD" to mean "previous."  But I'll tell you this, as time goes on, the sign "OLD" is being used more and more to mean both "age" and "previous."  It is the community who decides.  As the "old" people who sign the "old way" die off and the young people who sign the new way grow up--you will see the language change.
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 9/16/2004 11:50:32 AM Pacific Daylight Time, timothy tenniswood writes:

First, I want to thank you for such a great site. I have really enjoyed the depth of information and ease of use, plus the added info like slang and such.

I am having difficulty with possession and I was hoping you could help. I have not found a good way to say "Did you have fun?", "What did you have to eat?" and such. Are these "You fun you" cases or is there a sign for "have" that I am not seeing on your site. I have seen one where you would touch your fingertips to your chest but I'm not sure if that is proper.

Suppose a person just came back from an activity, you can look at him, raise your eyebrows, and sign, "HAVE FUN?"  or "HAVE FUN YOU?"
Use the version of "HAVE" that touches the fingertips of "bent" hands to your chest.

Another good way to ask this would be to use the signs "ENJOY YOURSELF?"
The sign "ENJOY" is a "two handed" version of "PLEASE."  The sign ENJOY means concepts such as "appreciate."

Dear students the question below about the book project applies only to my on-campus in-class students. But the second question regarding my  

In a message dated 9/13/2004 6:18:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time, a student writes:


I don't know if it's rude to ask you certain questions, but I am very interested in your life style.  I know you don't talk to us in class, or allow us to talk, because it helps us to learn sign better.  I was wondering though if you can actually talk if you want to.  I haven't really communicated with a deaf person ( in your case hard of hearing) and I was wondering if it's hard to talk, or even possible to learn words if you cannot hear them???  My other question is.... and this one is random, but I just thought of it.... but when your children were infants how would you hear them cry if they needed something when they were in their cribs?  If you think these questions are stupid and do not want to respond, I understand, but I was just wondering and we don't really have time in class to ask you questions like that. 


Dear Student,
The reason I don't allow you to talk in class is not because I think it helps you to learn to sign better. I don't allow you to talk in class because it is department policy. I think that an 80% / 20% mix of signing to talking would actually be better for a beginning level class. Beginning level students have many questions that they don't know how to ask in the target language.  It is frustrating for beginning students.  But since the department is adamant about "no-voice" in the classroom I follow the policy.  Also, some students don't have enough self-control to turn off their voices unless it is a policy.  I do what I can to help them out by using technology in class to provide context and clarification. 

Do I have the ability to talk?

Yes.  I talk when I want to.  Most people are surprised when they find out I'm hard of hearing because my voice sounds almost normal.  Sometimes people ask me "where are you from?" because they notice I have an accent. I was asked that a lot more in Utah than here in California.

You asked if it is hard to learn to talk when you can’t hear. 

Yes. It is very hard to learn how to talk if you can't hear the words. My wife, who is “legally deaf,” didn’t start speaking until she was five years old and even then it took many years before she developed speech that anyone other than her mother and her teachers could understand. (She has a 90-something decibel loss in her right ear and a 70-something Db loss in the left.)

One of the reasons why I can talk so well is because my mother spent many hundreds of hours teaching me how to pronounce words. She would have me read to her and she would "re-pronounce" the words I had trouble with.  I have about a 50 decibel loss in my left ear and a 65 loss in my right ear.  My hearing loss graph is in a “cookie bite” shape. That means I hear really well on the low and high end of the scale.  Unfortunately, voices are in the midrange of the scale.  This means I can hear thuds and whistles as well as anyone but it is much harder to understand voices.

With a good hearing aid, in a quiet environment, I can "hear" and understand someone who is standing a few feet away.

But if you put us in a restaurant at one of those round tables that seat six people and have that same person sit on the other side of the table--I will not understand more than a small percentage of his or her words.
In class, when someone speaks (which they shouldn’t do, ahem), I can tell they are speaking but if they are more than a few feet away, not looking at me, or it is noisy I won’t be able to tell what they are saying.  If I put in my hearing aid, and it is quiet, that range will increase to 10 or 12 feet depending on the acoustics of the room and if they have a mustache.

You asked about how we dealt with our kids.  When my kids were babies we used two techniques.  One was to have them sleep near us.  The other was to use technology.  We used a sound monitor that was hooked up to a light device.  Each time the baby cried, the light would flash on and off according to the cries of the baby.  I reckon our house looked like Dr. Frankenstein's house at night--the windows flashing with light.


In a message dated 10/11/2004 8:39:25 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
If you were to sign "Trick or Treat" would it be "Trick (bodyshift) treat,
which?" or "Trick" "O.R." (or "or as in then") "Treat"?

Also, (October is fire safety month) what does the word for "match" look
like?  I found "lighting a match" on your website but I want to tell the
kids "Don't play with matches" or "leave the matches alone".  I could sign
"Don't light match" but am nervous that the motion in "light match" will
give the kids ideas on how matches are used.  Is there a sign for "lighter"?

Is there a sign for "costume"?  I found "Mask" on the ASL Browser site, but
couldn't find "costume".


Teresa (the same Teresa at

"Trick or treat" would be signed "TRICK CANDY."

Conceptually there is no need for an "or."  Hearing children do not literally mean it as a choice.  They are making a statement that gets them candy.  If they literally meant give me candy or I'll tip over your outhouse then I could see a need for the "or" concept.  If the "or" concept is used at all in this "statement" it would be a very, very small body shift.

COSTUME is signed in context using the sign CLOTHES.  You establish the idea that you are talking about halloween.  Then you ask someone what clothes they'll be wearing.  It is understood that you are talking about a "costume."

 If you need to make it clear, you can sign "HALLOWEEN CLOTHES" and eliminate the second movement of halloween. Since it is a compound sign.

Matches:  This is a noun-verb pair with "light-a-match."  Use a small double movement to mean "matches."  Note: Context can also be used to change the meaning of "light-a-match." to match.  For example, suppose I signed, YOU HAVE "LIGHT A MATCH?" That would mean, "Do you have a match?" (Which means, "Do you have matches?")

The sign "LIGHTER"-(flame) is done by holding an imaginary lighter in your hand and clicking the switch twice.


In a message dated 9/16/2004 12:00:10 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
If the language police have a fit on "signed English", how do they justify so many fingerspelled words that are taken from English directly? They aren't fingerspelling French what exactly is the problem.
Plus, what about all the initialized signs that exist that are taken mostly from English...(save, liberate, independent, etc.) How is someone trying to learn ASL supposed to know when it's acceptable and when it isn't??
I don't see any difference in some of the signs they have a hissy fit over and some of the signs that are generally accepted as ASL. ??? With that logic, it seems a good part of the English language should be thrown out anyway (deja vu? i.e..) ?
The whole "That's signed English" thing has kinda driven me nuts since I started trying to learn ASL, as I just don't see why they accept it in some signs and scream about it in others.
- Kim

Bill responds:
To deal with the seeming contradictions and uncertainties of learning ASL, it will help you to understand the concept of "language evolution. ASL is a moving target. What is proper and accepted ASL varies from region to region and from decade to decade. ASL is determined by a "majority concensus." On either side of the majority group there will always be a minority group stating, "That's not ASL...this is." As a student, your job is to figure out three things:
1. What style of signing do I need to do in order to secure an "A" grade from my sign language teacher?
2. What style of signing is common amongst the Deaf people in my area?
3. What style of signing is common amongst the majority of ASL users (Deaf people) throughout the country?
I recommend working on those goals in order. Do number one first. Then number two. Then number three.
As time goes on you will see some initialized signs become accepted as ASL, you'll see others fall by the wayside into disuse. I watched with fascination as the concept of email changed from formal spelling ("E" pause/slight shake M-A-I-L) to lexicalized spelling (EMIL), to lexicalized/directional usage (EMIL-movement toward person receiving the email="email me"). I was fascinated by an initialized version of "TTY-call-to-(using and "E" handshape)" never caught on for "EMAIL" but an Index finger passing though a "C" handshape became accepted and is now on its way to becoming directionalized.
How is someone trying to learn ASL supposed to know when a sign is acceptable and when it isn't? The answer to that is "association with other language users." Or be taught by an instructor. Or research it on your own.
How do you know what clothing is acceptable?
You look around and see what is being worn.
The same holds true for ASL. Just as various types of clothing will be "in fashion" this decade and out of style the next, you can be certain ASL will change over time.
Dr. Vicars

In a message dated 10/11/2004 8:22:19 PM Pacific Daylight Time, a student writes:
Hi Dr Vicars

I'm wondering if it's normal to have severe wrist pain when first
starting to learn signing? My dominant hand-wrist is so sore, I can
barely manage some of the signs. Am I signing too "hard"? Or is this a
normal reaction to such novel movements? ...And will pass? What do Deaf
people do when they lose some functionality in the dominant hand?


Yes, it is "normal." But it depends. Some soreness yes. A lot of soreness, no.
If you are like me and do lots of computer work then add signing to the mix you might end up with some inflammation.
Yes, you might be signing with too much intensity. Try to relax. Stretch more. Consider putting on sports cream about 15 minutes before class. Take an ibuprofen to help with the inflammation (ask your doctor if you have other issues like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Repetitive Motion Injury).
Bill Vicars



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