An ezine for students and teachers of
American Sign Language.

spacer.gif (42 bytes) spacer.gif (42 bytes) Volume 1, Issue 24   

 July, 2005   

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Hello ASL Heroes!

From the Desk of:

Recently one of you asked "Why is it called "pah!"?
Meaning, why do I use the name ASLpah as the title for the website that I use as an archive for my newsletters?
"Pah" means "finally" or "success at last" in American Sign Language.  While doing the sign people tend to make a mouth movement that if voiced would come out sounding like "pah!" So, the exclamation "Pah!" in ASL is very positive and upbeat.
Since I consider myself a positive and upbeat guy, (er...that's upbeat, not beat up) I chose Pah to be the name for my newsletter.
I'm amazed and grateful for the terrific response to my efforts.
Oh hey, and you may be interested in checking out my latest is something I put together for people who would like to practice their receptive fingerspelling skills.  Literally all you have to type into your browser address bar is and the website will show up.
Please feel free to post links to from whatever sites you can.
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 5/31/2005 6:35:43 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Sharon writes:

 I have been studying ASL for several years, but am still very basic in my skills.  I completed two-years of "formal" classes and as many informal classes as I could find.  I have not progressed beyond second-year level because I  cannot find advanced night classes.  I plan to continue studying your on-line classes especially as summer gives me more opportunity to be online.

I have received conflicting advice about teaching basic ASL to others.  The teacher I worked with in formal classes believes you should not put yourself into any situation where you are not fully qualified.  A Deaf friend encourages me to teach the basics to church friends so they can communicate with a Deaf visitor who often attends our church.  I would like to share what I've learned and hope others would catch my passion and have the opportunity to follow up with formal classes.  What is your opinion on teaching basics when I am rather basic myself?

Thanks again for your classes and tips.

-- Sharon


Some Deaf feel that it is "not right" for hearing people to take "paid ASL teaching jobs" that could be performed by a deaf person.  The line of reasoning behind this is that Hearing people can go get any number of other jobs that require the ability to speak and hear.  Jobs involving ASL that don't require the ability to speak and hear are ideal for Deaf people and should thus be filled by Deaf and not Hearing. Many Deaf have the point of view that ASL belongs to the Deaf and that it should be only Deaf people who get to reap the financial rewards from the teaching of ASL.
But I do not see a conflict in what you stated in your email.

Your Deaf ASL instructor tells you that you should not put yourself into any situation where you are not fully qualified.

Your Deaf friend encourages you to teach the basics to church friends so they can communicate with a Deaf visitor who often attends our church.

Where's the conflict?

You've been studying ASL for several years. You are continuing to study ASL in whatever form you can.  You are seeking advice from professionals. You are aware of your own limitations. You are humble, open, and passionate.  You have deaf friends and acquaintances.

I think it would be a disservice to the deaf if you didn't begin teaching your church friends.
I suggest though that you grab your Deaf friend and have him/her team teach with you.

Having a Deaf co-teacher is important for beginning hearing ASL teachers because regional and local differences in signs abound.  Many people feel that "their way" of signing is right.  I suggest you pick a good ASL curriculum (mine, heh) and stick with it. Then if and when students tell you their Deaf friend signs it in such and such a way you can compliment them for knowing a variation.  Since you have "Deaf friends" too, you can ask them how they sign it. If several of your Deaf friends sign it differently than in your chosen curriculum, you should go with what the local Deaf are using. (If you are using my curriculum then contact me so I can add the other sign as a variation to my sign pages.)

In a message dated 6/1/2005 9:52:50 AM Pacific Daylight Time, SSQUYRES@ writes:

I cannot begin to express what an encouragement your message is to me.  Thank you so much for recognizing my passion for the language and encouraging me to share it with others. 

Regarding sign variations, I have a funny story for you.  My first Deaf friend named my Baptist pastor husband "priest."  I told her, "He is not a priest.  He is a pastor."  She replied, "It's MY language!"  She was right, so we called him priest from then on!  My new friend named him, "Beard big guy."  It would actually translate "Beard Fat" but I'm not telling my hubby that!  smiles.

My friend and I plan to go to a Deaf church this Sunday.  It will give him an opportunity to worship with other Deaf people and I am sure I will enjoy the experience too.

-- Sharon

In a message dated 5/30/2005 9:48:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Bill,
I just stumbled upon your website and am still familiarizing myself as to it's content.  So far, I am impressed and will most likely order your book or other materials in the near future.  For now, I have a few quick questions.  I am a bilingual (Spanish/English) speech/language pathologist working in the northwest Chicago suburban area.  Years ago in the late 1980's I co-created a curriculum to teach the langauge/pre-literacy skills for students pre-k through third grade in rural areas of Vermont.  This population was exclusively English speaking.  Our target group consisted of students on speech/language caseloads including several deaf students but we provided therapy within the context of the regular education classroom.  In our curriculum we utilized music, movement, sign language, story-telling, theater as a means of teaching vocabulary, concepts, language structures and enhancing retention and retrieval.  Although for the deaf kids the music aspect was not of benefit, the parents of the deaf students were thrilled with this curriculum because as parents they were faced with the decision of either sending their six year old children away to a schools for the deaf or keeping them in local school districts.  Introducing the "regular" students to sign language opened the door to communication with the deaf students.  As clinicians, another benefit we recognized was the use of sign language to enhance memory of new concepts learned.  
Currently, I am developing a parallel curriculum for students of Hispanic descent with significant language delays in their native language.  These children are not only faced with the challenge of developing language and literacy skills in their native language but also need to transfer these skills to a second language. The purpose for the sign language is to utilize the sign as a bridge between languages.  My questions are; In teaching the colors for example, would I teach "yellow" with the "Y" for "amarillo" in Spanish to maintain the integrity of the ASL or would I utilize signs from Spain or other Spanish speaking countries?  It's difficult to access Spanish signs.  A few years ago I completed an evaluation on a deaf student recently moved here from Mexico.  My sign language skills are ok but I felt I needed help from the interpreters for evaluation purposes.  I had an ASL interpreter as well as an interpreter of Mexican descent supposedly trained in the use of Mexican sign language.  To be perfectly honest, the student relied almost exclusively in the ASL interpreter.  My next question is related to the business aspect.  I'm an educator and not business or technologically savvy.  If I wanted to make a sign language video or DVD or CD Rom what would be the most economical way of doing this?  Thank you for your time and as I said, I will definitely continue to look through your material.  You have alot there to brwose through. 
Gloria Rojas
1.  You asked what signed language you should use as you develop your curriculum for students of Hispanic descent with significant language delays.  Use American Sign Language.  It is my observation that ASL is becoming the "English" of the Visual Language world.  By that I mean just as spoken English is becoming the dominant language in the world of spoken and written language, it appears that ASL is becoming more and more dominant throughout the Deaf World.
ASL is used in varying degrees in Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Zaire, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, Benin, Togo, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong. (Source:  Grimes, Barbara F. (editor), (1996). "Languages of USA" Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 13th Edition. Institute of Linguistics.)  According to my contacts south of the border, ASL is also gaining in popularity in Mexico.
2.  The most economical way of making a sign language video, or DVD, or CD ROM would be to borrow all of the equipment and software.
I'm serious.  Many years ago when I was first starting out I borrowed Dad's camcorder and made my first video.  Then I rented two VCRs from one of those "Rent-a-Center" type places.  I worked a day and all night making 40 copies of my video onto VHS tapes and took the VCRs back the next day an only had to pay a few dollars for the less than 24-hour rental.  Then I sold the 40 videos for $20 each and bought two VCRs of my own.
Ask around and I'm SURE you will find a friend, co-worker, or organization that will let you make a video on their digital camcorder.
Then you can burn that video onto a DVD using any one of the $29.95 "video editing" software packages you see in the computer stores.
Dr. Bill

Note: In an earlier newsletter I mentioned some information I got from Governor Schwarzenegger's official website regarding his proposed education reforms.  Obviously this is a hot topic, as evidenced by the following flame:

In a message dated 5/31/2005 6:20:01 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

You couldn't be more wrong about Governor "Slash & Burn" Schwarzenegger's education policies. To refer to public school teachers such as myself as "educators," you are assuming that "educator" is by title only. His proposals slash funding for classroom, teachers, pension (including police & firefighters), cut out licensure for over 300 professions, and shows that all he cares about is himself. He has done nothing to fix the debt, just deferred the debt to future generations - our current students. As a university person, how can you defend Governor Schwarzenegger? He's cut university budgets & increased tuitions. And as for special education, he only cares about special olympics - not increased funding for special eduaction students.

You should stick to what you know best, which is ASL. You wanna vote for Schwarzenegger? Fine. You know very little about public education funding & priorities.

Robert Rimac
Hello Robert,
Take a deep breath and think about what you just told me.
In one sentence you indicate that Schwarzenegger has "slashed" spending.
In the next you indicate that he has done nothing to decrease the debt.

I don't know how it works in your family, but if I want to reduce my debt, I "slash" spending.
My kids don't like it and tell me all I care about is myself and that I should spend more money on them. 

You asked me, "As a university person, how can [I] defend Governor Schwarzenegger?"  It's easy for me because in addition to being a "university person" I'm also a business person.  
I understand that when you have overspent your budget, you need to cut your expenses and get back on track.  This is not a popular thing to do because nobody likes a reduction in their weekly allowance.  But for the good of the family, it must be done, otherwise the family will go bankrupt.

p.s.  Well, actually, my kids are really pretty good about reductions in their allowance. Because my wife and I have taken the time to explain to them how budgets work.  During the three years while I was getting my doctorate they didn't get allowance and they understood why.  Now that I'm working full-time again they get allowance again--after they do their chores.

Regarding the "Interpreter Shortage:"
In a message dated 6/1/2005 7:38:20 AM Pacific Daylight Time, kputski@_______ writes:

From a hearing person's perspective, I can tell you why I have hesitated to decide to go "whole hog" towards [Interpreter] certification. Hopefully if enough stories like this come in, someone who can find solutions will be able to use them to bridge the gap and alleviate the deficiency of interpreters.

I started learning ASL several years ago so that my deaf friend and I could communicate more easily. I had every intention when I first started of obtaining certification to interpret. Here is a list of things I would love to see implemented. Some of us are willing to do this, but in the past few years the message I feel I have gotten is, "We want to make this hard to prove to you you can't do this," instead of, "Let us help you learn this so you can help others." I have no idea who the "they" are that create these standards and attitudes, but "they" are really discouraging those of us who want to help. I don't even know who to begin to write letters to to voice these opinions. Maybe you have that answer. Here are the things that I have wished so badly for as I have struggled (mostly alone) to learn this language.

Dear Powers That Be:

Below is a list of what would encourage me to become a certified interpreter. I sincerely hope that some day someone who can do something about this dilemma can make some changes. I would love to see this gap bridged!

1. Offer night classes. Adequate ones that reach beyond ASL I and II. Most of us can memorize a list of signs on our own, but what we need is practice, practice, practice!

2. Create hearing/deaf groups where deaf people help those learning to interpret.

3. Have governmental assistance for those who are willing to learn. This is a significant number of people that are being affected by this shortage. It deserves the same consideration as deficiencies with other minorities.

4. Offer satellite classes for those of us who are not able to attend classes across town every night, but could pick up a class during the day at our homes.

5. A BACHELOR'S DEGREE???? WHY????? Someone is not incapable just because they don't have a Bachelor's Degree. It won't make them a good interpreter if they have one, it won't make them a bad interpreter if they don't. My friend in Germany does not have a Bachelor's Degree, yet she speaks and writes excellently in both languages. I would hire her in a heartbeat to interpret for me if I ever were to visit Germany. Give us the standard we have to meet for signing ability, and if we can pass that, let us help! Many people are able to work at their own paces and become fluent in a language without doing it in a classroom setting. Why should they be eliminated as interpreters just because they haven't obtained a degree? Many people grow up in families signing. They may want to interpret! Don't eliminate them as much-needed assistance over something as superficial as this! The question should not be, "Do you have a degree?" It should be, "Are you fluent in this language and do you know the rules of etiquette for this profession?"

6. Do what Fort Wayne deaf community has done! Their deaf community has events where hearing people are encouraged to attend and interact with the deaf community. Some of us want to learn and expose ourselves to ASL as much as possible SO WE CAN HELP YOU! We are not out to make you feel "watched" "gawked at" or "awkward." Learning a second language takes a lot of dedication and a lot of practice. A lot of us feel just as awkward as you do. It is something akin to walking into a foreign country. We respect your need to have events where only deaf people get together and don't feel like they're "tutoring", but the only way we can become fluent enough to interpret is to be immersed in the language. Not someone to push my way in where I am unwanted, I have cringed and often felt very torn between trying to respect someone's wishes versus working towards the day when I can help my friend.

7. Have a mentorship program. Surely there are some deaf individuals who wouldn't mind mentoring some of us hearing people. Just getting together and chatting over a cup of coffee or talking about the kids once we're able to sign enough for that. Deaf/hearing events would be so much less awkward for some of us to attend if we had a deaf friend who was willing to take us under their wing once in awhile.

8. Make this affordable. One college I called wanted over $1,000 for ONE class in ASL. I would not just have to learn ASL. I would have to take classes in deaf history and culture, buy textbooks, use umpteen gallons of gas getting to various workshops and events....Some of us have young families and don't have thousands of dollars a semester or year to pay for all of this training. If the formal education route is the way some of us need to use, we have to choose one class here or one event here, and it takes us ten times the amount of time it should.

These are the things that I have noticed as I have worked to learn ASL. I really hope some day in the near future I will be of some assistance to the deaf community. I really am trying. I hope that something can be done to make this a more enjoyable, less frustrating task.

Kimberly Putnam

A while back Pam Close asked me for advice:

> I am looking for your best  recommendation for a high quality,
> no-messing-about sign language course in  Los Angeles.  It is actually
> not that easy to identify sign language  classes, even in the typical
> community and cal state system venues. I've  searched and googled and
> agency-requested this info and am finding the  information offered
> somewhat uneven.

I replied:
> Pamelyn,
> I do happen to know that El Camino CC offers an awesome ASL fair each
> summer. I went there last summer and enjoyed it a lot.
> They seem to be very serious about ASL instruction.
> I'd try checking them out if I were you.  See if you can get a Deaf
> teacher who has at least 7 years of experience.
> Cordially,
> Bill Vicars

In a message dated 6/1/2005 8:41:58 AM Pacific Daylight Time, pclose@ writes:

Dear Dr. Vicars,
Here is a little follow-up:

You were completely correct about El Camino College and their ASL/interpreters program. This week I am completing the first semester ASL 15 course, Perspectives on Deaf Culture and a combination Deaf
Culture/ASL lab.  My instructor, Barbie Gomez, is congenitally deaf (probably autosomal recessive: normal parents, deaf brother)and has been teaching 11 years at El Camino and other area colleges.  She is an excellent instructor and a terrific person to boot.

I am enjoying this endeavor more than I can describe. The program at ACC is quite large, with a variety of instructors, although your recommendation about a native speaker as a first exposure was absolutely
on the money.  I switched out of the class of a CODA instructor because I was concerned that the emphasis on form would bury the content/fluency/flow.  This has been confirmed by other students in that class since.  This spring there were 5 sections of beginning ASL each with 30-40 students, to give you an idea of the size of the program.

Thanks again for the great advice.
Pamelyn Close, MD

In a message dated 5/31/2005 6:19:38 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dr. Vicars
I am in the Maryland/DC area.  I just completed my Master's Degree in Divinity (Religion).  I am interested in finishing my ASL learning.  About 6 years ago I began working on an AA in ASL, then my job moved me to MD and that fell by the wayside, due to my Ministerial work and the job.  Now that things are slowing down I want to continue with my ASL learning.  I have been using the web to brush up on my skills as well as I am assisting with the Deaf Ministry at my church.  More recently I went to a cook out for three persons that graduate from Galludette (hope I spelled that correctly) with their PhDs (immersion). 
My question is it possible to obtain a PhD in ASL or should I attempt to  begin at another avenue?  I am interested in Galludette.  Any thoughts or suggestions?
Grace and Peace
Hi Veronica,
If you have the chance or can "make" the chance to attend Gallaudet University for an advanced degree I strongly recommend you do so.
Regarding your ASL skills, you simply need to determine which specific classes will best meet your needs and start from there.  For example, if you've had three semester's of ASL then you should probably take the fourth semester ASL class at whatever school you attend. You may want to approach several ASL teachers and ask to observe their classes for a few days to help you get a feel for where you should be.

In an earlier newsletter (May 2005) I mentioned a few of my areas of interest.
In a message dated 6/1/2005 4:41:09 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
What does this mean? "Distance education / technology-enhanced delivery of ASL Instruction."
Hi Sheryl,
Distance education
means teaching ASL from a separate location from the learner.
For example, I teach students in Minnesota, Texas, Utah, California, and other states.
Technology-enhanced delivery refers to using technology to improve ASL instruction.  For example, using PowerPoint slides, Internet web sites, CDs and DVDs, online testing and other technology-based tools and methods of instruction.

Hi Bill,
For the past 8 years I have been a S.E.E. Educational Interpreter. I have taken ASL 1-4. I am very involved in the Deaf community here in the Contra Costa Area in Calif. I was just hired to teach a signing class at the adult school. The former teacher has been teaching S.E.E. there for the past 12 years. I don't feel it is necessary to teach adults S.E.E. but I am not qualified to teach ASL. We have a wonderful Deaf man that teaches ASL at the college. I took on this job for one reason and that was to reach the parents of mainstream deaf children. I think many adults feel that they can't learn ASL or don't want to or are too scared to go to the junior college. I would like to make the environment casual, non threatening and fun. I was thinking of teaching ASL signs in English order which is PSE. That way they can communicate to the Deaf community as well as their deaf child. I will have them participate in the monthly deaf socials and I will have Deaf presenters come to the class so they can learn about Deaf Culture. This will give parents of deaf children an opportunity to meet each other and share since they have so much in common like a deaf child. I feel this would be just the beginning for them all. Do you think it is okay for me to teach ASL signs in English order? If not what approach or curriculum would you use. Remember it is an adult school not a college. If I find that someone is really interested in ASL I will refer them to my Deaf friend that teaches at the college level. Thanks for taking the time to read my e-mail.
Educational Interpreter

Honestly? I'd just use the "ASL University" curriculum. Check out:
1. The curriculum is free. You can adapt it or use it as is.
2. It is discourse-based: It is very conversational. Students practice by asking each other questions.
3. Students can study at home online using
4. Students can download the study sheets for free from:

In a message dated 5/11/2005 7:10:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

I am extremely passionate about ASL and love to learn more about it any chance I get. I try to show the kids in my classroom successful Deaf people and tell them how they can do anything they want in life, but they must work hard in school.  I am an interpreter (trying to finish my BA in interpreting but am having a hard time finding the money) for four deaf students in third grade.  It is a pull-out/ mainstream program that is very unsuccessful. (it is so unsuccessful that when I started working here in September they didn’t know the sign for deaf and when I asked them if they could talk they all said yes and that they were hearing, but just knew sign. Throughout the year I see them sign things like “deaf is stupid” “I hate deaf!”

But anyway that is besides the point. I was reading about the sign “at” and I couldn’t help but laugh. Last week one of my students (who got a CI about two years ago) was trying to get by my desk when she started saying something loudly--almost yelling at me. I turned around and looked at her and she yelled again and signed “at-scuse me!”  I moved my chair in and asked her what she had said and she looked at me very cocky and full of attitude and signed the sign “at” followed by the sign for excuse me. Then jerked her head to the side and rolled her eyes.  I was just wondering if this sign was similar to what you were talking about when you discuss the sign “at-least”  LOL!  

Well, I just wanted to share this experience with you and let you know how much I appreciate all the work you put into this site and how it is being used by many eager people trying to continue to grow in their ASL skills.
Many thanks and love,
Sara Clark
Winslow, NJ

Language is a fascinating beast eh?  Another one I get a kick out of is when people sign "TO"-"NIGHT" to mean "tonight."  (Instead of the more accurate NOW-NIGHT).
Twenty years from now (assuming I'm still around), I'm going to enjoy seeing how ASL has changed over the years.
Your story regarding the deaf children's descriptions of themselves is potentially very powerful.  Literally you or someone else could develop a dissertation based around the topic of mainstreamed deaf children's "self-concept."
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 5/31/2005 7:16:14 PM Pacific Daylight Time, amsd27@ writes:
Dear Dr. Vicars,
Hello!  I haven't emailed u before, but I thought u might find this info. personally interesting.  A Deaf friend of mine invited me along.   She's been teaching me ASL/sign for about 20 months now.  This is about the first ever Deaf Cruise, being planned for Oct. 2007!!  It would be the experience of a lifetime, and I would dearly love to go (not just to be with my friend, but to keep learning & to have the fun of meeting so many people.........I could go on & on, ASL has been an unfulfilled passion of mine for over 20 years now). 
Anyhow, if I won't be able to go myself (I can't even afford to go back to college for the 3.5 years to become certified.........yet!), then I can at least pass the info. along!  You may have already gotten this, but I thought I'd pass it to you just in case.  This is not necessarily for posting on your website.  I just thought you and your wife might have a chance for a great vacation! 
Thanks very much! 
Alana Dickson
St. Charles, MO
Thanks for the info.  Actually there have been "all-deaf" cruises before--maybe just not from THAT particular cruise line.
For example, I know of an all-deaf cruise that took place consisting of 1100 deaf seniors.
But still, what you describe is exciting!
For those of you interested in the cruise, contact:

In a previous newsletter a student asked for advice regarding how to teach a student in her care. 

In a message dated 6/1/2005 12:25:43 AM Pacific Daylight Time, smather@ provides this bit of advice:

Bill: I have another suggestion for a book that might help:
Teaching Kids w/ Learning Difficulties in the Regular Classroom - Susan Winebrenner
I am told that the ideas are extremely practical hands-on proven ways to achieve results...

In a message dated 5/25/2005 8:07:15 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Mr Vicars,
My name is Jayme Blans and I am a Dutch undergraduate at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Last year, I took a few of your online courses in ASL. I really enjoyed taking them and learning more about signing and the Deaf community. I still practice my signing whenever I find a few minutes to do so, and ideally would like to take up a course in Dutch Sign Language after I graduate. However, seeing as I live in the Netherlands and have no access to native speakers of ASL who could correct me and/or provide feedback on my signing, I was wondering if you would be willing to answer a question for me.
As a second language learner of ASL, I found it difficult to pronounce the Y-handshape at first (it took me several days). I am a right handed signer (or at least attempt to pass for one) and my right handed Y-handshape could be considered as ok now, whereas my left handed Y-handshape is still not quite there - the difficulty lies in the ring finger and little finger.
My question is as follows:
Is this particular difficulty with the Y-handshape something that you have seen happening before with other second language learners, or is it simply my motor skills and nothing else?
Furthermore, might my following assumption be considered as having some truth in it?
"Similar to learning a spoken second language where second language learners of English may perhaps never, or just about, master the correct pronunciation of the sounds θ, ð, or æ in, for instance, think –   [θІŋk] vs. [sІŋk] [fІŋk] -, this – [ðІs] vs. [dІs] -, or cat – [kæt] vs. [ket] -, so too may the Y-handshape prove to be a difficult hand configuration for second language learners of ASL. Especially the non-dominant hand may demonstrate to be rather difficult to execute. In other words, non-native speakers of ASL may experience the Y-handshape to be rather difficult to articulate which, as such, may also slow down one’s fluency. Nevertheless, just as native speakers of English will be able to understand non-native speakers when pronouncing [sІŋk] or [fІŋk] instead of [θІŋk], so too will ASL signers most likely understand an inadequatly pronounced Y-handshape."
I thank you for your time and hope to be hearing from you soon.
With kind regards,
Ms Jayme Blans
My students are all "Hearing" adult (or adolescent) second-languages learners of American Sign Language.  ASL is a non-native language for all of them.  The majority of my beginning level students do indeed experience some level of difficulty "articulating" certain handshapes. 
Some students do much better than others due to horizontal transfer of ability.  For example, dancers, visual-artists, and piano players seem to do quite well.
Yes, skilled native signers can generally understand the "hand wavings" of beginning-level signers.
What is fascinating however is that babies will begin signing many months earlier than they begin speaking.
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 6/30/2005 11:53:40 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

In an ASL/English bilingual training today, a trainer said that ASL only has FOUR true idiomatic expressions.  Surely ASL has more than four idioms!  The trainer explained that some things we call idioms may not necessarily be idioms. They could be metaphors, simply figurative language, or an ASL interpretation of an English idiom.

I'd love to hear your thought on this!

Oh gee.  ASL is replete with idioms.  They just haven't passed a litmus test and been neatly cataloged. [Litmus test--metaphor, heh]
So tell you what, let's start an "ASL Idiom" cataloging project right now eh?
The trick though, is getting people to agree on what is an "idiom" and prevent them from pooh poohing your idiom and calling it a metaphor.
Thus we must establish firm definitions (rules) if we are going to play the game:
The definition of a "metaphor" according to is:
1.  A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world's a stage” (Shakespeare).
2.  One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol: “Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven” (Neal Gabler).
So then, how is a metaphor different from an idiom?
According to the 1993 Merriam-Webster dictionary, an  idiom is “an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements” (575).

Ah ha!  There we go.  The ASL idiom "TRAIN GONE" means "No, I'm not going to repeat what I said."  It isn't a metaphor because "the leaving of a train" is sufficiently different from the idea of "someone not repeating themselves" that you really can't make a direct connection between the two.  You have to possess "insider" knowledge to be able to understand what is meant by the idiom.  Without context or insider knowledge it is likely that I would understand that the metaphor "sea of troubles" means to have a lot of problems.  But without context or insider knowledge I would not know that the idiom "kicked the bucket" means someone died.

So, here is a call to my readers.  Send me examples of "idioms" you've seen in ASL that fit the above established definition of an idiom and I'll post them at the Lifeprint Library (under the topic "idioms") for review and comment.
--Dr. Bill

In a message dated 7/8/2005 10:32:39 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
I know you get a lot of questions from your site, so take as much time as you need to reply :)  First - I have only recently discovered your site!  It is wonderful!!!  I've been a teacher of the Deaf for about 10 years, most recently in Guam (started out in Utah) and I just started teaching ASL at the University of Guam.  Your site is a great resource!!  Can I use your ideas to help my students with their ASL?  I ordered the "Sign Me Up" book and would like to follow your lesson plan format as well, if that is ok with you.  Are all of the lessons included in the book?
I appreciate your time.
Thank you.

Lorell Loosle (not Dr. yet, but maybe someday :) LOL!)
Guam, U.S.A.
Yes, feel free to use the various resources at my website.  Feel free to use the curriculum and lesson plans to teach your students.   Any information or handouts in my book "Sign Me Up!" you are welcome to make copies and hand out to your students. The book has 212 pages of information, but is only a forerunner to the current lesson plan hosted at the web site.   You or your students are welcome to download those lessons free in the form of an electronic student workbook and use it in your classes or as a home study tool.:
Additionally, if you have suggestions or special requests for improvement of the curriculum, please do let me know.
Take care,

William G. Vicars, Ed.D., ASLTA Certified
Sacramento State University

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