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American Sign Language Linguistics:
Grouping Signs by Their Parameters
Also See "linguistics (1)"
Also See "linguistics (2)"

Kerry Kurtzman
10/26/04

Grouping Signs by Their Parameters

 An Inventory of Nuances 

     In my quest to learn approximately 500 signs within a five week period, it occurred to me that when I linked signs according to their similarities, I was able to retain/recall the signs more easily.  American Sign Language (ASL) is not just a gestural language, but a complex, visual-spatial language (Nakamura, 2002).  In fact, each sign has four general characteristics or parameters: 1) handshape; 2) orientation (palm); 3) location; and 4) movement (Note: a possible 5th parameter could be facial expressions).  Therefore, creating visual links has helped me to categorize the signs and store them more efficiently into my memory.  Table 1 lists 59 signs (29 cognates) which differ in only one or two parameters:

Table 1

     Common:

      Location

    Orientation

     Movement

(differ in hand-

  shape)

        Common:

       Handshape

         Location

       Orientation

(differ in movement)

 

      Common:

     Handshape

     Orientation

     Movement

(differ in location )

       Common:

      Orientation

      Handshape

     (differ in location, move-

      Ment)                              

 

        Common:

        Handshape

          Location

        Orientation

         Movement

Brave/Strong

( handshape

   modified)

Cafeteria/

Bachelor/

Restaurant

      Dance/Read

      Again/Often

      Beer/Brown

       Fish/Blue

  Computer/Church

      Tired/Have

     Almost/Easy

      Other/Ten

   French Fries/”99”

    Keep/”Type of”

      More/Lost

   Surprise/Wake-up

(differ in facial expression)

    Strike match/Cost

     Think/Cents

     Work/Habit

Pea Brain/Government

        (coincidence?)

Mother/Father

Grandmother/

Grandfather

 School/Paper

  Leave/And

Taste/Prefer

  Interesting/Like

    Please/Enjoy

   (differ in # of hands)

      Cute/Sugar

(differ in facial express-

  ion)

Apply(run for)/

        Shirt

 Gold/California

Glasses/Gallaudet

  During/Parallel

        Ugly/Dry

   (facial expression)

 

 

 

 

 

 

      Notice that I did not include noun/verb pairs that are similar/related in meaning (e.g.: “sit/chair”, “drive/car”), or words of similar meanings with initialized differences (e.g.: “math/algebra/geometry”).  Right or wrong, intentional or not, I believe that I see the “shape” of words/thoughts instead of individual signs. 

References

Nakamura, Karen. (2002, March 28)  Sign Language Linguistics.  About American Sign Language.  Deaf Resource Library.  Retrieved 26, Oct. 2004 <http://www.deaflibrary.org/asl.html>.


 


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