ASL University ►

American Sign Language: "look-up"

In a message dated 8/7/2012 8:08:46 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, jmd717 writes:

Dr. Bill,
Recently a friend and I have been getting together once a week to go through a lesson together. We just finished lesson 11 and will be buying your dvd soon so we can continue past 15! Tonight, for the first time, we decided to spend 15 minutes after we finished the lesson talking to each other exclusively using ASL. We're trying to get ready to go to an ASL student meetup to get some practice using what we've been learning in a conversational environment, but neither of us feel completely ready, so we're starting just with the two of us. To help us out, we left the browser window open to and when we found that we kept fingerspelling a word and wanted to know how to sign it instead, my friend would sign "look" to me, and I would look it up on your ASL dictionary. We didn't know how to sign "look up" though and even a little googling hasn't really answered it for us. What is the appropriate way to sign "look that up?" Would you use the word for "search" (c handshape making two circles by the eyes)? In context, him just using the "look-at" sign got the meaning across, but we were both curious how you would suggest signing "look up" as in look up in a dictionary or on the internet. Thank you again for all your instruction!
- Justin

Dear Justin,
Hello :)
The danger of asking an expert for advice on how to sign something is that he or she might actually tell you. (Heh.)
Why is that dangerous?
Because you might believe him or her when he or she says "The sign for 'look-up' is ... _____."

I like the fact that you have pointed out how "in context" your friend can sign "look" and the both of you know exactly what he means: "Look-up that recently fingerspelled word." The sign "LOOK-at" requires context. It is a "transitive" verb, (memory aid: it needs to transfer it's action to "something"). You are both sitting there with a computer screen open and ready. Then he signs "LOOK-at" directionally toward the computer screen. With that much context going for you I would imagine that a glance and a head-jerk in the direction of the computer screen would serve just as well.
The challenge faced by signers is that the less context you have, the more specific your signing needs to become.
The inverse is also true: The more context you have, the fewer signs you need.

So, the "right way" to sign something often depends on how much context you have. If you and your signing partner(s) have a lot of shared context you would be wasting your partner's time if you use more signs than needed to convey your message. Thus your signs might be "correct" but your overall language use would be inappropriate to the situation.

Okay, so, let's move forward on the premise that the concept of "look-up" has several situation-specific meanings that can be expressed via a variety of signs,
I recommend the following:
SEARCH / seek / look-for / look-up
FIND / pick-up / "found it" / looked it up /
CHECK / check into / verify / make sure of / look-up / investigate
PAGE / turn-pages / look-up in a book /
TYPING / data-entry / use-keyboard

Those signs tend to use corresponding facial expressions and head movements.
Best wishes,
- Dr. Bill


Also see: LOOK

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University
ASL resources by    Dr. William Vicars

Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy Dr. Bill's "Superdisk."

Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is now available!   CHECK IT OUT >

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >


back.gif (1674 bytes)