A journal for students and teachers of
American Sign Language.

spacer.gif (42 bytes) spacer.gif (42 bytes) Issue 41  

 December, 2006   

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Hello ASL Heroes!   Happy New Year!

Here's hoping you are all set for another terrific year of fun, learning and teaching!  I know I am.  Life just keeps getting better and better out here in Sacramento, California.  My wife, Belinda, will be graduating in January with her new Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Pacific University (a private, fully-accredited four-year liberal arts university that hosts a high quality low residency  graduate writing program--see for details). The program has been ideal for her since it fits her learning style (visually oriented/deaf). 
Take care.
(William Vicars, Ed.D. of,, and

In a message dated 10/19/2006 5:35:14 PM Pacific Standard Time, kiirsih@ writes:
Hi Dr. Vicars,
I read your articles on name signs and all the FAQs.  I have a question that I can't find an answer to so far.  I read Sam Supalla's book on Name Signs and he says that the ANS (arbitrary) and DNS (descriptive) name signs should not be mixed--that this is not traditional.  He theorizes that this tendency is creeping into Deaf culture because more and more hearing people are learning ASL. 
I belong to an online signing message board and nearly everyone there (some of them very experienced signers) use the "mixed" name sign version--a signed initial of the person's name while doing a motion describing some characteristic, whether physical or whatever.  Example: let's say Lori has long curly hair, so they sign "L" with a downward spiral movement to indicate her hair.  I also recently attended a class for children (my own children are in it) for beginning sign and the hearing teacher of the class wanted to give every child a name sign, telling them they needed to think of something they liked to do and then make the sign for that with their name initial.  According to Sam Supalla, this is not correct--this "mixing" of the two systems--and furthermore, only certain movements/locations are correct for name signs. 
Another issue: Sam Supalla says in his book that you can choose your own name sign and gives 500 signs for the alphabet featuring correct movements and locations to help you choose.  Everywhere else I've read that only a Deaf person can give one to you.
What is the truth here?  I'd love to know your opinion/knowledge on this subject. 
(And thanks so much for the great website!!  It is so helpful.  It's fun learning you are from Utah.  I'm not, but I've lived here for several years now.  Thanks for the great resources!!)
Kiirsi Hellewell 
You asked, "What is the truth?"
The truth is:  "Things change." 
When it comes to language--"the truth" is a moving target.  That target is called "consensus."   Consensus is "whatever the group agrees on."  Language experts are only experts to the extent that they have their finger on the pulse of the group.  The more language users you ask and the more often you ask them, the more accurate your facts will be.  The fact is that today, right now, many, many Deaf people have mixed namesigns.  My own name sign, a "V" tapped to the side of the head, was given to me by a Deaf man (Boley Seaborn) who was originally teasing me about being bald. At first the "V" was tapped on top of the head, then later on a Deaf woman (Sandra Thrapp) modified the sign so that it taps to the side near the temple and said it had to do with being smart. (Whew!)  Thus you have two more examples of Deaf people giving mixed name signs.
Another truth (?) to consider is the fact that 9 out of 10 deaf children have Hearing parents.  Thus you have a huge number of deaf kids receiving their first namesign from either their Hearing parents, their parents Hearing ASL teacher, or their Hearing teacher's aide, their Hearing interpreter, or their Hearing teacher who works at the Deaf School.  Many of these namesigns stick with the deaf person for many years or even their entire life.
My opinion?  It is definitely best to get your namesign from a skilled Deaf signer who is familiar with most if not all of the other signers in the area.  But let me ask you this:  "Who is Deaf?"  At what point does a person become "Deaf?"
"Woah!" Now there's a can of worms.  Back to that consensus thing.  It depends on who you ask and whom you are standing next to.  I have friends that I consider to be Deaf.  They are physically deaf, they know ASL very well, they hang out in the Deaf community, and in their hometown are considered Deaf by all the people around.   Now suppose such a person were to get on a plane and fly to Gallaudet University and start hanging out with third generation Deaf (children of Deaf parents and Deaf grandparents) who used ASL in the cradle, attended the state school for the Deaf since age 3, and don't move their lips when they sign.  All of a sudden my "Deaf" friend gets pushed two or three status levels down the (Deaf) totem pole or two or three rings outward from the center of the "Deaf target."  The dividing line between Deaf and "not Deaf" depends on who is holding the pencil and doing the drawing.  So don't expect to find consistency in discussions having to do with topics such as this.  Instead, keep doing what you are doing.  Keep asking questions to get a sense of what is the current consensus and call that, "the way it is."
Dr. Bill


In a message dated 12/4/2006 7:51:38 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Do you know if Sac State will be having their ASL "Bootcamp" again this summer and when that might be?  Thanks for your time!  Love your newsletter and you website!!
For a Fact sheet see:
Dr. Bill
William Vicars, Ed.D.
Director, ASL Online and Immersion Programs
Sacramento State, College of Continuing Education
6000 J St. - Eureka Hall, Room 308
Sacramento, CA 95819-6079 * *


In a message dated 10/16/2006 5:25:55 PM Pacific Daylight Time, jkmoll@ writes:
hi bill.  have a question.  if a deaf student attends a state university and by law the university pays for the interpreter for any class-related function, who foots the bill for sorority mtgs. and functions??   thanks for your time...  julie moll
Colleges and universities must make reasonable accommodations to enable students with disabilities to participate in the institution's courses, programs and activities--including extracurricular activities.
If it can be shown that the sorority is a university program and that the request is "reasonable" then the university will need to provide an interpreter.
For example if I were to go to the University's home page and look under "student activities" would I see a listing for "Greek" organizations? Is the sorority listed there as a "student association?" Then it could be argued that the university is indeed sponsoring the fraternity and therefore would need to provide an interpreter to a fraternity participant.
Bill Vicars

In a message dated 10/10/2006 1:51:26 PM Pacific Daylight Time, an ASL instructor writes:
HI Bill-
I have been using your curriculum for the past 8 semesters or so at our community college for beginning ASL 1 and 2 and LOVE it.  Therefore, we get through 40 of your lessons.
At that time, the students, if they are continuing on, go to Intermediate ASL 1, and their instructor begins them on Signing Naturally 1, lesson 1.  These students are very frustrated because they know all the vocabulary and feel they are not being challenged at all.  I have approached this instructor about this and am told that the students I give to her have NO conversational skills whatsoever.  These students, and I, completely disagree.  We just went through 40 of your lessons together, practiced with your sentences and created dialogs for tests and in class work among other things.  I feel I can't get my point across because this instructor and our Dean feel that vocabulary should not be taught, only learned naturally through conversation.  I found on your website your points showing the differences between these two curriculum's, but I need more.  My department needs more.  I don't want to be told that we can no longer use your curriculum.  I send students from ASL 101 able to communicate with the Deaf (in a small way but they can communicate).  Can you help me here?
Is there also a way that you can just respond back to me and not put my email in your newsletter?  Or, leave my name and email out?
Thank you so much,
(name on file)

Dear (name on file),
Road Safety experts will tell you that the main cause of automobile accidents is because someone "glanced" when they should have "looked."  Some people "glance" quickly at something and turn away without having seen what was really there.
That is the way some instructors are regarding the Lifeprint Curriculum.
They look at it for a few minutes and think they understand it when they really have no idea what it involves or how it works in the classroom.
For example, they "glance" at one of my "lesson pages" and see what they think is a list of vocabulary, followed by a list of sentences. Then they think, "Oh, I've seen this before.  That is how we used to teach ASL back in the 1960's--a list of vocabulary and some practice sentences."
What this person fails to realize is that what they are seeing is not a list of vocabulary, but rather it is a list of hyperlinks that lead to in-depth explanations of each concept.
When it is pointed out to them that these are hyperlinks and not printed words on paper, they then glance again and say, "Oh, right, that is the 'grammar-translation' method where you learn about the language but you don't really use it."
Thus we see such people managing to crash twice in the span of a few minutes.
The Lifeprint Curriculum is a discourse-based curriculum that is taught in-person via modeling and conversation and then followed up via homework in a bilingual-bicultural computer-assisted language learning (CALL) online environment.
New concepts are introduced in the target language mode (visually/gesturally) via direct association (pictures and graphics) and embedding (placement of new concepts within the context of previously learned material.
The big words aside, let's look at an example.
In lesson 3, one of the target vocabulary items is "CITY."
In the classroom the teacher shows a PowerPoint slide of a house.  The sign HOUSE is then modeled by the instructor.
The teacher then shows a PowerPoint slide of a a city.  The sign "CITY" is modeled by the instructor. Then a different slide is shown showing a different CITY and the sign is modeled again.  Next the student is shown a slide representing a house and the Teacher, using ASL, asks a specific student, "What is that?" Then the teacher shows another slide representing a city and asks a different student, "What is that?"  The student signs "CITY."
At this point the students have (partially) learned two concepts via "direct association."
Next the instructor will embed the concept of CITY into a question utilizing previously learned material.  In the previous lesson the students learned the sign "LIVE/address." They have also learned that furrowed eyebrows are often interpreted as being a "Wh"-type question.
The chooses a third student and signs, "CITY YOU LIVE?" (using appropriate facial expression).
The student responds by fingerspelling where he lives or by asking for clarification.  Note: All of this is taking place in the target mode without voice.
Then the teacher selects a forth student and asks, "CITY HE/SHE LIVE?" (referring to the student who recently answered). The forth student responds by telling where the third student lives.  The instructor asks a fifth student, "HE RIGHT?" (regarding the forth students answer).  Note: five students have been directly engaged in discourse and all of the students have had to pay attention throughout the whole process because they might be called upon to answer at any stage of the process.
Next the instructor shows a PowerPoint slide of the phrase "What city do you live in?" along with the gloss "CITY YOU LIVE?"
The instructor models it one more time then directs a sixth student to "ASK-me "that question" (referring to the phrase on the board).  The student asks the teacher the phrase and the teacher responds. (Sometimes accurately, sometimes giving false information to check for understanding.)
This process is repeated four more times to introduce a total of at least five vocabulary concepts and five phrases which comprises a "set" or "card." Within a span of 10 minutes the instructor engages up to 30 students in personal, interactive discourse in a target mode (visual gestural) environment.
Next the instructor places the students in pairs and distributes cards containing the recently learned five questions to one person in each pair. To the second person in each pair the instructor hands a review card containing questions from the previous class session or a previously covered lesson. The students then take turns asking each other questions in the target language and responding. Thus in less than 15 minutes all of the students have moved from not knowing those five signs, to recognizing the signs in both isolation and in context and then using the signs in meaningful discourse with a communication partner. For as much as a full third of the class every student is engaged in conversational discourse in ASL. I have coined the phrase "responses per minute" or RPM to describe the Lifeprint method of teaching.  This method is a combination of the natural method, the bilingual-bicultural approach. Using this method an average instructor can easily cover three sets (or "cards") in 45 minutes. 

This is a "high RPM environment" and leads to rapid acquisition of demonstrated conversation skills because the students are using the language to learn the language.

Remember earlier I said that the students had only "partially" learned the sign "CITY?" That is because the "natural" method has a major weakness.  It doesn't support rapid acquisition of multiple meanings of words or expansion of semantic range. Many students will walk out of such a class with very limited concept of the sign "CITY" Ė not knowing that it also means "community" and can be used in such phrases as "the Deaf community."  The Lifeprint method of instruction solves this problem (truncation of semantic range) by including a synonym list when appropriate. For example, such a list can be included at the bottom of the slide that is shown to the sixth student.  This is where a bilingual-bicultural approach is superior to a "target language limited" or so called "natural" approach.  Students who learn ASL via target language only approaches often report that they "understand" what a person is signing, but they can't put it into "words." Students who have learned ASL via the RPM method tend to become excellent interpreters because in addition to understanding what is being signed to them, they also have excellent back and forth conversational skills, and the semantic range required to interpret between their native language and the target language.   
Most "immersion"-labeled courses cannot by any stretch be considered to provide an experience similar to that of "living in the environment of the native users of the target language."  A couple hours a week sitting in a classroom provides only limited exposure.  At best a "target language only" course should be called "the slow drip method."

In addition to the RPM method, the Lifeprint curriculum utilizes Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL).  From the convenience of home the student is able to access the online lessons.  Upon clicking the "HOUSE" link, the student is showed two versions of house and the related sign CITY.   Upon clicking on the CITY link, the student is shown two versions of the sign for CITY and is instructed that this sign also can be used to mean "Community."
This enables students to easily reinforce their learning at home and thus experience more success in the classroom.
William Vicars, Ed.D.
Director, ASL Online and Immersion Programs
Sacramento State, College of Continuing Education
6000 J St. - Eureka Hall, Room 308
Sacramento, CA 95819-6079 * *

In a message dated 10/15/2006 7:31:10 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Bill
I hope you can answer some questions????  A year ago my husband and I moved to Butte montana from Yucaipa Ca. We found a church here. There is a deaf woman in the congregation. There has been no one to sign to her for 16 years. (I volenteered signed at Fairview State Hospital Costa Mesa Cal. 35 Years ago. ) I started to sign for her. She is using old old anslan. she is 67, became deaf thru sickness at 5, attended Great Falls school for the deaf and blind in MT. My problem, She is using a different manual alphabet! in 35 years i've never seen this. I did some research and can't find what she is using. Many of her letters her palm is face up!  'Y' she holds upside down? I think it is a transition alphabet from the French to what became American. Knowing this, I understand why there has been no-one who knows her sign language.  She seems to be the only deaf person in town,@ 17,000 Between us I don't pressure her with the new stuff. I do teach church members praises and songs in current ASL. Together we have difficulty in signing privately.  I think she has signs for Capitals, periods, end of a thought and how she groups numbers. I think she uses multiples 6x10=60 I've tried to use a pen and paper to get an explanation, she has terrible sentence structure and limited understanding of many spoken words. What could she have learned? What is the alphabet? Is there a different structure to conversational singing? I need to know the rules.  We're looking at signs for about the 1900's. Please what can you tell me?
Land address too!
Karen Jo Whitworth
240 Lyndale Ln.
Butte Mt.
Help! Karen
Hello Karen,
I knew an older fellow who used what he used to call "the phonetic fingerspelled alphabet."  It was a variation of the ASL manual alphabet.  He would hold vowels in various positions (including palm up) to indicate if their pronunciation was long or short.
It might be worth a shot to contact the Deaf school and see if they might have any resources that would shed light on your mystery. See contact info below.
Good luck.
Dr. Bill
3911 Central Ave.
Great Falls, MT 59405
Main 406-771-6000
Toll Free 800-882-6732
Fax 406-771-6164
TDD 406-771-6063/6122

In a message dated 11/1/2006 3:53:11 PM Pacific Standard Time, colleen.busche@ writes:
Hi Bill,
I am working on a project called: Basic ASL Signs for Health Care Professionals
I will be teaching a one hour course to 30 of my co-workers ( nurses, therapists, cna's etc.). I will also teach fingerspelling and numbers which many of them "already know". I plan to touch on Deaf Culture and etiquette and how to work with an interpreter. After one week of practice, the group will meet again and rather than having them just sign and have me validate, I will sign to them and have them interpret. I have always found that end more difficult--especially when caught off guard or when working with a Patient who may be illiterate.
One question that has come up as I have been preparing for the class is the issue of mouthing the words. I was taught to mouth the words as I signed, but some of the literature about the Deaf culture suggests there is an aversion toward oralism. The Deaf Patients I have encountered in the 10 years I've worked in this area have typically mouthed the words as they spoke. Any suggestions?
Thank you again for you wonderful work!


Yes, feel free to use the pictures in your project.
Regarding mouthing:
American Sign Language uses facial expressions, head tilts, shoulder raises, and mouth movements in grammatical ways (non-manual markers).  If your mouth is busy mouthing English words it will be unavailable to use for grammar purposes.
It is true that many Deaf do mouth many of the words they sign.  The appropriateness of mouthing depends on numerous factors.  Some of those factors have to do with whether or not a sign is traditionally done with a specific mouth morpheme (for example: NOT-YET uses a slightly open mouth showing the tongue covering the lower teeth) or whether the sign is a multiple-meaning sign, (for example: single/someone/something/alone/only). 
A high level of fluency is required to know which signs require non-manual markers (NMMs), which signs can be enhanced by which NMMs,  and which signs can be mouthed.  Many Hearing, ASL as a second language learners, mouth inappropriately by either overexaggerating their mouth movements, or mouthing English words while doing signs that require specific mouth morphemes.
It is also true that many Deaf people are bilingual and have had some degree of oral training in their youth.  These Deaf people often switch to a form of signed communication that uses for the most part ASL signs in English word order when communicating with Hearing people.  They will also tend to mouth English words much more than they would if they were talking to another Deaf person.
With all that in mind I will now share with you my thoughts and opinions since you asked. 

If you were teaching a college or high school class labeled and promoted as an ASL class, then I would indeed encourage you to have your students avoid mouthing English words as they sign.  If they are to ever become fluent (in later classes and via association with skilled signers), it will be important for them to incorporate ASL non-manual markers into their signing.

I do not believe the majority of your class will ever become fluent in ASL. And I don't think that is their goal either.  I believe the goal of your class is to help your students become courteous, helpful, and competent in their very specialized field of service.  I also think that the majority of Deaf people who come in contact with your students will be very aware that they are dealing with a Hearing person who has made the effort and taken the time to learn a bit of signing.  Many of those Deaf people will have some level of residual hearing and or some degree of facility at lip-reading.  It seems to me that since the goal of your class is to provide competent, courteous communication and considering the time constraints and other demands on your student's time, that which you will likely end up with is a group of graduates who are capable of a limited amount of "sign supported speech." (Sometimes referred to as "sim-com" --short for simultaneous communication.)
Sure, in a perfect world we Deaf would like all Hearing people to be totally fluent in sign language.  But that just isn't feasible in a few weeks or months of sign language classes.
I do think it is good that you are culturally aware enough to be asking these questions and I encourage you to touch upon this topic briefly with your students. 
Dr. Bill Vicars


In a message dated 11/1/2006 4:52:13 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Dr. Vicars,

 Iíd like your recommendation on a ASL dictionary.
Often times I donít know a sign, or simply have forgotten a sign and would like a comprehensive dictionary that I can carry with me.
Size isnít really that important.
Thank you.

Eliot Jackson

Here's one that I highly recommend:
Random House Webster's American Sign Language Dictionary

Random House Webster's American Sign Language Dictionary

Written by Elaine Costello, Ph.D.Elaine Costello, Ph.D. Author Alert
Category: Reference - Dictionaries
Format: Trade Paperback, 576 pages
Publisher: Random House Reference
ISBN: 978-0-679-78011-3 (0-679-78011-4)

Pub Date: November 30, 1999
Price: $31.00


In a message dated 11/4/2006 5:53:10 PM Pacific Standard Time, martinezsquared@ writes:
Hello Dr. Vicars
I have an employment related question for you. My father in law works for the Post Office in Minnesota, and he has a Deaf colleague there that works with him. He tells me that his colleauge does not have an interpreter, and that sometimes it is hard to work with her because of this, because when they need to tell her something they do not know how. He is always asking me how to sign something so that he can go to work and be able to talk to her. My question is does the Post Office have an obligation to provide an interpreter as a "reasonable accommodation" (ADA) or does this person have to make the request for herself? Any input that you can give on this subject would be greatly appreciated.
Misty Martinez
The word "reasonable" is open to interpretation via case law.  But, according to the guidelines I've read, it would indeed seem reasonable that the post office provide an interpreter for important meetings and important communication events, but not necessarily everyday interactions.  You state that when they need to tell her something they don't know how.  What?  They don't know how to WRITE???  It only takes a few moments to write something down and hand it to her.  Or better yet, sit at a computer keyboard and type it out.

In a message dated 12/4/2006 8:04:52 PM Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Dear Bill,
    I'm sorry to be so frank about this, but how does one know that this university is a credible source for a college education? Do the courses that you offer give you a degree in asl in the end? If one is not going to receive a degree in asl when the courses are finished with good grades why would one spend nearly $500 every six months on the program? This would be an awesome idea if one was able to obtain a degree after completion.
                                  Thank you for your time.
                                                  Cassie Richardson
Actually I encourage people NOT to register for my ASLU program.  Don't do it.  Save your money and study on your own using the lessons at the website.
But some people want a piece of paper from me documenting that they have completed an ASL course.  Since it takes me time and effort to document their involvement and review their receptive and expressive finals and research paper, I charge them a hefty fee.  Why would they pay $500 on the program?  Because they want a piece of paper with my signature on it.
Why is my signature worth so much? 
Because I went through a $90,000 program (undergrad and graduate school) to get a few silly letters after my name (EdD refers to holding a doctorate in education).
Those individuals have prearranged with their local university or high school to accept my piece of paper (documentation) in for college credit or satisfaction of requirements having to do with their local school or transcript. So they are indeed getting a degree. Just not from me.
Dr. Bill
(William Vicars, EdD)


In a message dated 11/21/2006 1:19:18 PM Pacific Standard Time,
MSec@____ writes:
Dr. Vicars,

The last newsletter I received was dated August, 2006.
Have you discontinued this newsletter?

I do still send it out. If you haven't been receiving it you might want to
send a blank email from your current email account to:
That should insure you are still on my newsletter's email list.
Also, for archives you can visit: go into the site look for the "archive" links. (Those archives may change eventually as I upgrade
to a blog format and RSS feeds).

Note: I sent this email and it got bounced back to me.
I'll try again.
You might want to check your email host's spam blocker to see if it is
blocking "desired" mail.

NOTE to readers:  As you may note from the above email exchange...the real issue here is Marla's email provider is blocking her incoming emails from me.
So, her best solution is to go read the archives once a month at   :)

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