Hello ASL Heroes!
In a message dated 11/1/2005 7:51:37 AM Pacific Standard Time,
Hi, quick question for you. If I want to say the word "what" in
a non- question form, how do I sign that. I know a lot of the
time we'll just skip the word what (when it's in a non-question
form), but if we don't how would we say it. For example, "That
is WHAT I meant." Or "Let me tell you/show you WHAT is bothering
me (or, let me tell you WHAT bothering me).
In ASL the concept of "what" is often expressed in other ways than a specific
In the sentence "That is what I meant." You would sign, "THAT! I
MEANING." The sign THAT would be emphasized by using a bigger, slightly
faster movement. Or you might just sign, "MY POINT!" (The right index
finger would point at the left upright index finger.)
In the sentence "Let me tell you what is bothering me" you would sign,
"SOMETHING BOTHER ME, YOU-MIND I TELL-you ?" The variation of
the "SOMETHING" sign I'm referring to can also mean "someone or single."
There is a "generic version" of "WHAT" that is made by extending your
left (or non-dominant) hand outward. Move the tip of your right index finger downward across the left palm.
I strongly advise you to not begin using a specific or generic sign for
"WHAT" for statements. Rather, you should seek to figure out the
underlying concepts and use appropriate ASL equivalents.
Now, there is a form of "what" that you might not have learned yet that
is very good to know, and that is the variation used for
"exclamations." This is the lexicalized (mutated fingerspelling that
sort of looks like a sign) version: #WHAT, which starts as a "W"
handshape, moves forward and down quickly and ends in a "T" handshape.
That version is used when you want to express incredulousness or
In a message dated 11/17/2005 7:11:02 AM Pacific Standard Time,
I have a question regarding fingerspelling. I work with children who
learn fingerspelling as we learn our letters. We have both "lefties
and righties" in our class. Technically speaking, it is easier for
the children to use their dominant hand to fingerspell. Is the right
hand the correct hand to fingerspell with or is it acceptable to use
Not only is it "acceptable" it is best if children spell with
their dominant hand.
The same goes for signing in general. Left-handed people should do
basic signs in a mirror image of right handed people. For more on this
topic, visit the Lifeprint.com library and check out the left handed
In a message dated 12/10/2005 1:47:48 AM Pacific Standard Time,
I [have a question] about eavesdropping on two people signing.
that bother deaf people? Or does it depend on the situation? I
went to an event required for my class. At the event i went to i was
starring at everyone and i got some weird looks. there really isn't
any way to whisper in ASL so i was just wondering if that culturally
It depends on the situation. It is generally
expected that some Hearing
students will show up and stare at various Deaf events. If an event
has been advertised in a widely distributed newsletter and is held in a
public place then it is relatively safe to assume that you are welcome
to show up and observe.
However, there are times when it is not inappropriate to observe.
Suppose the event is not an open social, for example--a few
deaf people having dinner together at a restaurant or a Deaf couple out on a date.
During those times it is NOT polite to
Think of your own experience as a hearing person. Are there times
when you wouldn't mind others overhearing what you are saying? What
circumstances are those? How about the times when you would feel
bothered by someone listening in on your conversation? Now apply
those principles to your own observations of Deaf people.
p.s. there are plenty of ways to whisper in ASL: sign small and off to
the side, sign using privately known signs, cover your hand and
In a message dated 12/9/2005 3:08:36 PM Pacific Standard Time,
I have used your site as a resource
as I teach my hearing baby sign language, and I really enjoy
browsing the dictionary. There are a couple of signs I would
like to know: waffle (is it similar to pancake?) and
Thank you so much!
I haven't seen a good sign that I like for waffle, so I end up just
doing the "flip" version of the sign "pancake" initialized with a "W."
The flip is very small, more like a backward movment of "cook" than
My coworker does the a similar movement but uses a "four" handshape, (he
is one of those
"initialization is nasty."
For "Christmas lights" I do Christmas:
http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-signs/c/christmas.htm and then
the version of light that thumps the underside of the chin with the
middle finger of an "8" handshape. See
In a message dated 12/4/2005 2:59:08 P.M. Pacific Standard Time,
Hi- I had a quick question about some signs-For the term "human
interest story" and "feature story" what would you you suggest I
Before you can appropriately express this concept in ASL you must first
acknowledge that you are dealing with a bilingual/bicultural situation.
You are attempting to take a "Hearing world" English term, and express
it in ASL.
It is important to realize that most hearing people are not too clear on
the phrase "human interest" either. The two words together do not paint
a "clear and complete picture" for a beginning journalism student. The
student or casual news recipient doesn't know what a "human interest"
story is until it is explained to him or her.
For example, if I asked the typical Hearing American, "Was the recent
hurricane disaster a "human interest" story?" He or she would likely say
yes. But that would be an incorrect answer since news of a catastrophe,
destruction, and loss of life--while sad and tragic--does not fit the
established definition of a human interest story.
According to Wikipedia.com, a human interest story is a type of news
story that is "concerned with the activities of a few named people. It
is often considered to be the story behind the story, in that it shows
the personal emotions behind a large news story affecting many people.
An example would be an interview with a survivor of a natural disaster."
Ah, there's the trick, if we were to interview an individual then it
becomes a human interest story. Otherwise it is a feature story.
If you were to use ASL and sign the words HUMAN INTEREST STORY, some
so-called expert or other would likely point out that those words do not
express the full concept of the meaning. Well, la de da, so what?
Neither do the words in English. It takes two or more English sentences
to express the ideas behind those three words. Thus can we expect it to
be any different in ASL? Then after the person with whom we are
speaking understands the idea behind those signs we can continue our
conversation by using a short phrase to convey the extended meaning.
With that in mind, my response is that on first introducing the concept
to someone who hasn't yet been exposed to it, you would need to sign
something to the effect of: N-E-W-S STORY TITLE-(topic) INDIVITUAL, (bodyshift)-OR
FEW PEOPLE, ("or"/huh gesture) SPECIFIC GROUP. INVOLVE THEIR EMOTIONS,
FEELINGS, SOMETHING IMPACT THEIR LIVES. THAT-one STORY NAMED (pause,
eyebrows up), AGENT INTEREST STORY.
By "agent" I'm referring to the non-initialized version of the "PERSON"
For "feature story" I'd sign MAIN STORY. Or maybe "top story," or "most
In a message dated 11/30/2005 8:24:21 PM Pacific Standard Time,
Recently my 18 month old son has
had an ABR test and the results confirm that his hearing
loss is 90 decibels in one ear and 75 decibels in the other.
Unlike you I do not love to
learn things and at times my brain operates in a muddled up
fashion however I have a drive to learn ASL as quickly as
possible for my son.
He is very smart and tonight
while reading a Sesame Street book by Lynda Boyd all about
signing he caught on what was happening. He copied me by
pointing at the pictures and then signing with his hands
(All gibberish but it's a start).
I do have a question concerning
learning ASL. There seems to be many different ways to sign
many words. In 3 different books there are three different
Towel signs. Can we just pick one that feels right for us.
We live on Vancouver Island In
BC, Canada and there are very few Deaf people here.
Any advice would be appreciated.
Thank you for your great
Fred de St. Croix
Think of variations in sign books as being similar to variations
in word choices. In English we have the words: sofa,
couch, chaise lounge, chesterfield, davenport, daybed, divan,
lounge, ottoman, and settee. (I didn't know all of those, heh, I
used a Thesaurus.)
The important thing is not to let worrying about which sign is
right slow down your progress. My advice is if you see two
signs that are different, try to ask a Deaf person which version
he or she sees used most often in your area. If you don't have
access to a local Deaf person, then you are going to have to
make an informed guess by comparing two or three dictionaries
and seeing which version of the sign seems to show up most
often. If you get three different dictionaries, with three
different signs, try to see which sign looks most like the
concept you are trying to express. For example, there is a
version of the sign for towel that looks like someone drying the
back of their neck by pulling the towel from side to side behind
their neck. There is another sign for towel that looks like you
are drying your mouth. Using logic I'd deduce that when talking
about a bath towel I'd use the first sign, and when talking
about a paper towel or napkin I'd use the second sign.
Then later while interacting with Deaf people, if you notice
they seem to consistently do a sign differently than you have
learned from a book--it will be time for you to abandon your
sign and adopt the one you see used in the community.
In a message dated 11/16/2005 2:05:57 PM Pacific Standard Time,
You speak of Deaf culture and the different levels of
immersion. Here is a question for you.
I know a teen (we'll call her Suzy) who was born deaf and has an
implant. She is not allowed an interpreter for school and she
reads lips pretty darn good. She can read, speak, and write in
English. When I sign to her she doesn't seem to use the right
signs for the meaning she is trying to convey. Is it possible
that she isn't Deaf, culturally speaking? Is that possible?
Should I correct her mistakes or add them to my "Suzy"
My adult Deaf friends notice her mistakes and are confused by
her signs. Is it perhaps just that she is juvenile?
Suzy is a peripheral
member of the Deaf community. She is
not-yet culturally Deaf.
As she learns ASL and comes to understand and internalize the norms,
values, traditional customs, attitudes, manners, and ways of the
Community she will become culturally Deaf.
Whether you should correct her signs or not depends on your role in her
life, your role in the Deaf community, and her desire and willingness to
learn new or standard signs.
If your role is that of a teacher, you would certainly want to suggest
accurate sign choices from time to time. If she seems open and willing
to accept constructive feedback, keep it up. If she seems defensive,
you might consider alternative ways of helping her develop her sign
communication skills: put an ASL dictionary where she will find it,
invite her to tag along to Deaf events, point out good ASL-related
websites, ... heh get creative--introduce her to a boy
In a message dated 11/15/2005 10:06:27 AM Pacific Standard Time,
There is an essay on your site [Lifeprint.com] written by
Bethany Polley about Gallaudet and I wanted to read it to
my ASL class. May I? I liked it better than the others and
wanted to share it with my students. I was going to tell them
the authors name and the website where I found it. Would this
Feel free to read it.
Feel free to make copies and hand out freely.
Feel free to post links to Lifeprint.com and any of it's sub-pages
In a message dated 11/15/2005 9:09:13 AM Pacific Standard Time,
Good Morning Bill,
...I've always wanted to sign and know a little via my parents who
signed (finger spelling only) so I wouldn't know what they were
How do you sign the word, worthy?
In general, you use the sign "important" to mean "worthy"
and rely on context.
But it depends. Try to think of what the concept means, and then think
if you know any signs that convey that
In a message dated 11/14/2005 6:26:09 AM Pacific Standard Time,
Dear Dr Vicars,
...The powers to be in my area, northeast Indiana, seem to be
in disagreement as to which language is going to survive in the
long run, ASL or SEE. I have had several offers of employment
in the school systems as an interpreter even though I am
woefully under qualified but have been told by the main deaf
liaison here that SEE will cease to exist and the only way to
learn is to learn ASL. I am working very hard trying to get my
Indiana certification before 2008 when the laws change to make
it necessary for people to have a BS degree in Deaf
Communication. It isn't possible for me at this point in my
life to leave my home and go to college so I'm trying to work on
my own (with your help of course) and with the help of a few
members of the deaf community in my town. I guess what this
all boils down to is what is your opinion, ASL or SEE?
Thank you again, so very much
Sincerely Elaine Wiening
Adult deaf are going to continue using ASL for the foreseeable future.
Hearing administrators and well-meaning educators are likely to continue
promoting SEE for the foreseeable future.
Hmmm, so, looking in my crystal ball, I'd say that...they both
However since I teach and make my living from ASL, heh, you should
certainly learn ASL.
Er...what I mean is, learn 'em both!
It's like back when I used to do computer networking for a living.
There were (and still are) quite a few popular networking systems. At
the beginning of my studies I wondered which of the two main ones I
should pursue, Microsoft or Novell. I ended up pursuing Microsoft
Certification and eventually got a job with a relatively good salary and
was fairly happy. (Later I went back to my true love, teaching ASL and
am even happier.) But here's my point--some guys studied for and passed
both Novell and Microsoft Certification. Those fellows earned
thousands more per year than I did! It was only fair since they
knew more than I did and were able to provide greater value to their
The same holds true for sign language interpreters.
If you learn more than one system you will be more flexible and
(generally/eventually) earn more than someone who only knows one system.
But, if you are going to go with only one or the other...personally I'd
suggest ASL because--of the two--ASL is the one that fulfills/provides
"language credit" at colleges and universities throughout the US and is
preferred by the majority of the Deaf community.
In a message dated 11/10/2005 6:35:25 AM Pacific Standard Time, ERatzman@____.com
an engineer in Dallas, Texas and have been using the fingerspelling
practice letter recognition. I have a deaf co-worker that I like to
communicate with using fingerspelling when possible so the site has
been very helpful. I want to bring to your attention that it did
surprise (and disturb) me with one of the words it used in a quiz -
the word was "f_cking". Maybe in New York that word is simply an
adjective, but here in the South (and I hope in Sacramento) that
word is worthy of an "R" rating and is not socially acceptable.
Anyhow, I don't know what dictionary or list the quiz pulls words
from, but I wanted you to be aware of that one and again I thank you
for the site, it has been most helpful for a novice like myself.
Woah! I thought I had gotten out all words of that type.
Sorry about that! As a result of your email I have deleted that entry
from the ASL.ms web site word pool.
Hey, THANKS for the "heads up."
In a message dated 1/5/2006 9:20:33 A.M. Pacific Standard Time,
Marta Andrews-Suttorp contacted you about finding someone to
practice signing via webcam. Could you please give her my email and
let her know I am interested. You might remember me asking the
same questions she did lol
I'll post your message to the next newsletter. (I might not be able to track
down Marta, so let's hope she still reads the newsletter. Marta, Aaron's
email address is:
In a message dated 1/1/2006 2:10:20 PM Pacific Standard Time,
When young, I severed the tendons in my left pinky and now it
doesn't work quite right. It doesn't straighten or bend all the way
and the tip doesn't move independently from the rest of the pinky.
Something like this, or missing the tip of a finger or whatever, is
this sort of like a speech defect? You just work your way around it
and others will learn your particular "accent"?
Yes, you have the equivalent of a "speech impediment."
For everyday life communication purposes minor hand defects are "no big
I recently went to a party hosted by one of my coworkers. I met about 8
new people and chatted with them for various lengths of time.
Later, while replacing a baseboard in my kitchen I was using a power
saw. Such things make my wife nervous and she mentioned how common it
seems that carpenters are missing parts of their fingers or thumbs. As
an example she referred to one of guests at my coworker's party.
Honestly, I never noticed. Apparently the fellow was missing from the
last knuckle onward for three fingers of one hand.
I had interacted with him directly for at least five minutes and was
around him for much longer than that. I never even noticed his
I was genuinely surprised to be informed that he had cut off part of his
fingers. Now, admittedly that could be due to my not being very
observant, heh. But the fact is it simply wasn't an issue and didn't
affect his or my ability to communicate.
Many of us Deaf have "other issues." We grow up used to seeing others
with physical deformities. Any time you get a group of 30 or 40 Deaf
together there are usually a few that have something noticeably
different about their bodies.
A somewhat sticky situation is that of hearing interpreter wannabes who
have hand defects.
That is a bit like someone with a facial scar wanting to be an eyelash
Deafness (generally) is not a choice. Becoming a professional
interpreter is a choice.
Deaf people need to communicate with their hands. Hearing people do not
"need to" become interpreters. There are thousands of other
jobs hearing people could do.
This fact leads to an important psychological difference in the level of
distraction caused by a hand impediment.