ASLpah.com | Issue
50, September 2007 | William G. Vicars Ed.D., Editor
Hello ASL Heroes!
In a message dated 8/14/2007 7:12:40 P.M.
Pacific Daylight Time,
... I have a
question. I understand that initializing
words based on English is not really ASL.
But when I read about that, I thought about
the signs for 'aunt', 'uncle', 'cousin'...
'family,' 'class' and other words. These
are all initialized. How can it be alright
to initialize some words, but not others?
What is "alright" in a language is a moving target.
The things that are "alright" today, might not be
"alright" a year from now.
I have pinned down some of my colleagues and
friends and asked them that same question.
I love my colleagues and friends, but I've gotten
some pretty lame answers. One of them answered
something to the effect of, "It is okay to use
initialization that was naturally developed and in
use in the Deaf community prior to the development
and spread of the various Signed English systems
invented by Hearing people--but it is not okay to
use initialization that came about as a result of
Hearing people inventing signs."
I had to stare at his face for a moment to make sure
he wasn't kidding me. He wasn't.
So, if you are looking for a logical reason for why
"certain signs" can be initialized and others can't
-- I doubt you will find much agreement. If you ask
experts about it, most of them will just squirm a
bit and tell you that's the way it is or they will
come up with some "strange reason."
The real reason is simply the "law of consensus."
It is a form of evolution. Mutations are introduced
into a language. Such mutations will tend to be
perceived as strange by the old-timers. If the
mutation is compellingly beneficial it will gain a
foothold and start building acceptance within the
community. After enough of the old-timers die off,
the new members of the community (who grew up with
the beneficial mutation) will simply embrace it as
natural. Eventually a consensus will develop that
the new sign (mutation) is "okay."
If a mutation is not compellingly beneficial, it
will die off. For example, for a very, very brief
time back in the early 1990's the term "text
telephone" was introduced into the language. The
sign was a double T (slightly reformed while moved
an inch or two to the side). This sign was
not beneficial. We already had a sign for
a text telephone: TTY. Trying to shorten the sign
to TT didn't work because it was easily confused
with the sign for "bathroom/toilet."
So, where does that leave you as a second-language
learner trying to pick up ASL? How do you know
which signs are okay to initialize and which ones
1. Hang out with members of the Deaf community.
Make a list of any initialized signs that show up on
the hands of many Deaf people.
2. Review the literature: Get a stack of 10 ASL
dictionaries or textbooks. Make sure they say ASL
in the title or on the cover -- not just "sign" or
"sign language" or "signing." Look up your list of
initialized signs and see if there is a consensus in
3. Check the online ASL dictionaries to see if they
agree with the textbooks.
4. Take a few ASL classes from a variety of
instructors. For example try to take two ASL courses
at the same time from two different instructors.
Each time you see an instructor use or teach an
initialized sign--make a note of it and then ask the
OTHER teacher what he or she thinks of that sign (no
need to mention where you learned the sign--grin).
In a message dated 9/2/2007 10:13:37 P.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
Thank you for your great web site. I have used
it as a resource in my middle school classroom
with great success, especially the
fingerspelling site. Students love to use it to
see who can guess words the fastest.
I was wondering if you do any traveling to
conduct immersion programs. Several of my
co-workers (Educational Interpreters) and I have
passed the knowledge portion of the NAD-RID
certification and would like to take the
performance portion. Our problem is that as
educational interpreters we have little
opportunity to practice using our receptive
skills as a community interpreter would. How
would you feel about visiting the good old
Eastern Shore of MD (try out the Atlantic Ocean
for a change of pace; we are 35 minutes from the
beach). We would love to be a part of an
immersion program to "warm up" our receptive
skill in preparation for the test.
Hello Melinda, :)
Thank you for your kind invitation to go out to MD. I
have fond memories of the Atlantic from my youth as an
intern at the David Taylor Research Center in Annapolis
(across the bay from the U.S. Naval Academy).
I receive a number of requests such as yours each year
from ASL Heroes around the nation (and occasionally
other parts of the world).
And although I would enjoy coming out and meeting a
bunch of new people, it realistically isn't feasible for
me to launch an immersion workshop in a distant location
due to the logistics of finding and arranging for enough
talented ASL professionals to be involved. Here in
Sacramento I have my finger on the pulse of the local
talent and can confidently pull together some really
Now, I feel for you and in an effort to be helpful I'd
like to share with you a link to a page I use to post
advice to an "ASL Club." Check out:
There is no reason why you can't set up your own
immersions there in Maryland. There are many hundreds of
ASL professionals there that you can bring together to
create an awesome immersion experience.
I'll post a sample list of information that needs to be
included in your advertising to help make your event
Best wishes in all your endeavors.
What: "The Official Title of the Event"
Who: (Who is invited? Who is this for? ASL students?
Why: Is this a social event? Leadership training? ASL
Date: The day and date of the event: For example:
"Saturday, July 24"
Hours: The starting time and the ending time of the
Cost: Is there some sort of contribution?
Where: Exact street address, and the name of the city
How to get there: insert a "map" from yahoo maps or
some other online map: (http://maps.yahoo.com
Hosted by: (What organization?)
Contact person: First and last name, phone, and email
Interpreter: Is this event interpreted? Is it conducted
Close captioning: Will it be captioned?
Dress: Should I wear a tie? Work clothes? Casual? Bring
Transportation: Is it provided? Carpool available?
Babysitting: Is it provided?
Website: Is there a web page with more information?
In a message dated 9/3/2007 1:40:27 P.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, annsavedbygrace(at)mchsi.com writes:
In ASL, are 'be' verbs and the articles used in the
titles of books and movies, etc?
"Be" verbs (is, am, are, was, were, etc.) and articles
(the, an, a) can be either spelled or omitted--depending
on how precise the signer wants to be. It is also very
common for skilled ASL signers to use "Signed English"
to express "be" verbs" as part of titles. Doing so
might be referred to as "code switching." When you are
quoting a title that was coined in another language, it
is common to switch to that language in order to quote
the title exactly. If an English speaker wants to refer
to a book with a Spanish title, he or she will generally
quote the title in Spanish. For example, there is a book
called "La Vida Rica." I plan on buying it for my wife
for her birthday, (shhhh, don't tell). If I were to
translate that title into English it would be "The Life
Rich" or more accurately, "The Rich Life." If I go into
a bookstore and ask an employee to help me find the
book, I would not ask for "The Rich Life" -- rather I
would code switch to Spanish and use the actual Spanish
title of the book since that is what it is listed
ASL instructors who follow the "prescriptive" approach
will tend to be more strict and tell you that you should
spell the "be" verbs and articles in titles.
ASL instructors who follow the "descriptive" approach
will be more flexible and point out to you that they see
Deaf people handling it titles in a variety of ways in
the Deaf Community.
In 2007 a movie came out titled "The Simpsons Movie."
If asking someone whether they had already watched the
movie it would be common to sign, "MOVIE,
S-I-M-P-S-O-N-S, YOU FINISH WATCH?" Or even,
"S-I-M-P-S-O-N-S MOVIE, WATCH FINISH YOU?" But suppose
months later you are at a video store and your Deaf
friend is standing at the online computer catalog and
wants to know if the store carries that movie and asks
you what the title is--you would likely sign either,
"T-H-E SIMPSONS MOVIE" (fingerspelling the word "the.")
or "THE SIMPSONS MOVIE" (using the signed English sign
So the rule is, "it depends."
In a message dated 9/5/2007 6:14:29 A.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, a corporate employee writes:
I've had [your fingerspelling
wallpaper] on my work pc for more than a year
now. Unfortunately, we all got an email that
was sent from upper mgmt, stating we could only
have family and/or pets, or "corporate's"
wallpaper. I've (so far) left mine "as is", but
doubt I'll be able to keep it that way for much
longer. :-( I'd hate to have to give it up,
but workplaces can be sooooo dictatorial these
days. And we have NO "handicapped" (D/deaf or
otherwise) working there. (They're just now
getting the campus ADA updated, because the city
pressured them into it. The place just missed
the ADA enactment at the time.)
And no, I don't want to put it on
my home pc, because I already have a pic from
"home" (back east) on it.
How about this:
We are all brothers and sisters in the gospel.
Therefore I'm your brother.
Thus you have a picture of your "brother's" hands up
on your screen.
In a message dated 9/5/2007 11:41:36 A.M. Pacific Daylight
Time, RWright(at)cde.ca.gov writes:
Hello Dr. Vicars, Hope you had a wonderful summer break.
Can't wait for our ASL classes to start again.
A few of us still get together weekly to practice, but it is
not the same without you. :-)
I have a favor to ask of you. I need to know what this means
before I tell Dr. Ellerbee the following:
"Me fist smack attitude yours, wow".
This came from our Deaf School in Fremont. See attached
Will you please convey my message to Dr. Ellerbee? Tell him,
“Me fist smack attitude yours, wow”. If he does not
understand this, have him ask his sign language teacher,
In a message dated 9/5/2007 6:38:45 P.M. Pacific Daylight
Time, BillVicars writes:
The "fist smack" part of the message means to kiss (smack)
the back of your fist, which can be interpreted as meaning
"love it." The "WOW" sign is often used to add
emphasis your message and could be considered an
Thus the message could be interpreted as: "I really love
In a message dated 9/9/2007 7:00:36 P.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
I wanted to thank you for such a wonderful web
site. My son, Sam, is speech delayed. We have
found that teaching him how to sign has greatly
increased his confidence and speech production.
We are always using your site to learn more
words and phrases. Also, is there a sign for
"Ohio" or "Buckeye"?
Thank you Again,
I don't know of a sign for either of those (Ohio, or
Buckeye). I'll ask my readers if they know of one.
A Deaf person living in Ohio would be your best bet for
finding a sign for "Ohio."
In a message dated 9/11/2007 7:24:08 P.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, ndnlittlecrow(at)gmail.com writes:
Dear Dr. Bill,
One of my friends was looking up spiritual
growth and is sure that you would sign SPIRIT and
GROW, and I feel like it wouldn't be GROW but a
different word (s) like SPIRIT BECOME BETTER.
It would be easy to start a bunch of ASL instructors
arguing over that phrase. Heh.
I think most Deaf would indeed understand "SPIRIT GROW"
as meaning spiritual improvement.
You could sign SPIRIT IMPROVE if you wanted. But
realistically, the phrase "spiritual growth" is so
complex that any "one" ASL sign other than "grow" will
simply not cover the complexity. But for what it is
worth, my first thought was: SPIRIT DEVELOP. Which
would mean "spiritual development." But what does that
mean, really? It means a whole host of things: Become
more patient, loving, kind, charitable, generous, meek,
knowledgeable about godly things, etc.. That is a tall
order. My thought is to simply expand the semantic
range of the sign GROW to include growth of things other
than plants. And then duck your head when the argument
In a message dated 9/11/2007 10:54:36 A.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
I am teaching my homeschooled senior 3rd
semester ASL and we have some confusion
regarding placement of pronouns such as in:
I am a student. We would sign it
as: I student I.
Oh, I understand. We would sign it
as: Oh-I-see. Understand I.
The confusion arises whenever other materials
place the I at the beginning or the end,
sometimes in the middle. Is there a hardfast
rule for the pronoun placement?
I've referred to your website in previous years
and am glad to see how it has grown. Thanks
There are a number of "correct" variations of "pronoun
placement" (word order) in American Sign Language
(Humphries & Padden, 1992).
For example you could say: "I
STUDENT I" or, "I STUDENT" or even, "STUDENT I."
Note: The concept of "I" in these sentences is done by
pointing an index finger at your chest and/or touching
the tip of the index finger to your chest.
You could sign:
"I FROM U-T-A-H I."
"I FROM U-T-A-H."
"FROM U-T-A-H I."
All of the above
statements are "ASL."
I notice that some "ASL"
teachers tend to become fanatical about encouraging
their students to get as far away from English word
order as possible and thus focus on the version "FROM
It has been my experience during
my various travels across the U.S. that the versions "I
STUDENT" and "I FROM U-T-A-H" work great and are less
confusing to the majority of people.
The version "FROM UTAH I" tends
to be used only after the subject of the conversation
has been introduced. For example, suppose two people
are talking about a man named Bob. If one of them says
he "thought Bob was from California" and I happen to
know he is really from Utah, I would sign "FROM UTAH HE"
Humphries, T., & Padden, C. (1992). Learning American
sign language. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.
Looking for an ACCREDITED online ASL course? How about
one offered though the California State University system?
JoAnna Rodgers (firstname.lastname@example.org), Program
Coordinator, California State University Sacramento College of
Continuing Education, 3000 State University Drive East
Sacramento, CA 95819-6103 T (916) 278-4813