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VARIATION

If you think American English offers variation in production and use, you ain't seen nuthin' till you have a gander at American Sign Language.  <grin>

When you focus on it, you can observe language variation everyday.  While learning, language students are focused on it all the time - well, focused on it with respect to the new language, anyway.  So, for them, variations frustratingly appear at a fast a furious pace.  If you are experiencing this frustration, take heart in knowing that you are not alone.  Each of us has been where you now are.  We survived it and so will you.

Students will find it useful to distinguish between factors that influence variation.  Armed with a basic understanding of language variation factors, you can ask smart questions (either silently to yourself or out loud to someone else like your mentor) when you encounter them.

FACTORS

A single factor may all by itself influence language production, or there may be several factors in play.  The lists below offer several language variation factors (aka: types or kinds) and examples of each. 

 REGIONAL

        Here's an excerpt from Linguistics of American Sign Language: An Introduction, 4th Ed.* by Clayton Valli and Ceil Lucas:

"Ask a group of native ASL signers to show you their signs for PICNIC; BIRTHDAY; HALLOWEEN; EARLY; and SOON, and you will see examples of regional variation." [(2000) page 168; ISBN 1-56368-283-4]

*By the way, if you are a curious student, always asking WHY? with respect to the details of ASL, then getting, reading, and keeping a copy of Linguistics of American Sign Language (see above) is an absolute must.  Is it possible to learn ASL as a second language and go on to become an interpreter without reading Clayton Valli's book?  Yup.  You might even become a good interpreter; but, without a thorough grasp of the inner-workings of whichever two languages you are working between (i.e.: English and ASL), you are, in our opinion, not likely to become a great one.

Common regional sign variations include:

White checkmark. PICNIC
White checkmark. BIRTHDAY
White checkmark. HALLOWEEN
White checkmark. EARLY
White checkmark. SOON
White checkmark. RABBIT
White checkmark. GOAT
White checkmark. 
White checkmark. 

 

Signs Across America

~ Gallaudet University Press ~

By preserving the variety of unique and traditional signs found across the country, the book is also an important contribution to research about the fourth most used language in the U.S.

Signs Across America ((Regional Variation in ASL))

 

 GENERATIONAL

        Common generational sign variations include:

White checkmark. HELP
White checkmark. two-handed versus one-handed signs (CAT; COW; DEER; DEVIL)
White checkmark. SOON
White checkmark. 

 

 HISTORICAL

Historic events or technological developments can influence language.  Technological progress changes our tools and how we use them, such as the telephone's shape changing from a wall mounted base with hand-crank to a hand-held unit.  Along with society, language can be shaped by changes brought by events and developments, such as the homogenization of sign language that seems to be taking place with the continued and growing use of video phones (VP) in combination with VRS (video relay service).  Time itself can even be a factor.

        Common historical sign variations include:

White checkmark. TELEPHONE
White checkmark. COMPUTER
White checkmark. 
White checkmark. word order

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) was noun adjective (BALL RED); becoming adjective noun (RED BALL)
BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) was object verb subject (YOU ME LOVE); becoming subject object verb (ME YOU LOVE); or subject verb object (ME LOVE YOU)

 

What's Your Sign For Pizza?  (ASL Variation; Lucas & Valli; 2003)

What's Your Sign For Pizza?
(2003) Lucas & Valli

~ CD Included ~

This introductory text celebrates another dimension of diversity in the United States Deaf community - variation in the way American Sign Language (ASL) is used by Deaf people all across the nation. The different ways people have of saying or signing the same thing defines variation in language. In spoken English, some people say "soda," others say "pop," "coke," or "soft drink;" in ASL, there are many signs for BIRTHDAY, HALLOWEEN, EARLY, and of course, PIZZA.

 

 

 REGISTER

        Common register sign variations include:

White checkmark. KNOW
White checkmark. sexual or medical context

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) range from graphic representation to clinical vocabulary
BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) range from touching the signer's body to being produced at a distance from the signer's body

White checkmark. 
White checkmark. 

 

 SOCIAL

        Common social sign variations include:

White checkmark. 
White checkmark. 

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 

Politeness in ASL

It's not WHAT you sign; it's HOW you sign it

It’s Not What You Sign, It’s How You Sign It is framed within politeness theory, an apt model to determine various interpretations of what speakers or signers mean in respect to the form of that which they say or sign. The variations reveal how linguistic and cultural differences intersect in ways that are often misinterpreted or overlooked in cross-cultural communication. To clarify these cross-linguistic differences, this volume explores two primary types of politeness and the linguistic strategies used by English speakers and ASL signers to express politeness concerns in face-to-face interaction. Hoza’s final analysis leads to a better understanding of the rich complexity of the linguistic choices of these language groups.

Not WHAT; HOW: Politeness in American Sign Language

 

 

 ETHNIC

        Common ethnic sign variations include:

White checkmark. 
White checkmark. 

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 
BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 

 

 ABILITY

        Common ability-related sign variations include:

White checkmark. 
White checkmark. 

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 
BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 

 

 INITIALIZATION

        Common initialized sign variations include:

White checkmark. ADULT
White checkmark. I
White checkmark. PARENT
White checkmark. PAY

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 
BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 

 

 LEXICAL BORROWING

        Common #LOANSIGN variations include:

White checkmark. 
White checkmark. 

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 

 

 

 

 PERSONAL STYLE

        We can't think of anything with greater potential for confusing a sign language interpreter than variations in personal style among signers.  Newbie interpreters will do well to emotionally brace themselves for personal signing style variations.  These can be subtle or wild and can be painful to interpreters still wet behind the ears.

        Common personal style variations include:

White checkmark. exaggeration
White checkmark. ending a sign with flair (hand flips upward or downward)
White checkmark. extended digit

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) pinky finger
BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) thumb

 

 NEGATION

        Common negation sign variations include:

White checkmark. 
White checkmark. 

BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 
BULLET (Small blue checkmark denotes steps to take, points to notice, things to keep in mind.) 

... to be continued.

 

This page was edited: 09/15/2009
This page has been visited Hit Counter times since: May 14, 2009.
TerpTopics is a trademark and service mark of TerpTopics, LLC. © 2009. All rights reserved.

TerpTopics™ is an independent entity; as such does not claim or attempt to claim, represent, or imply by any means whatsoever that it is associated with any other entity that may or may not offer services, goods, or information of interest to interpreter, Deaf, or student communities.  The opinions expressed here those of TerpTopics unless otherwise stated.  Please keep in mind that, while every effort is made to present correct, appropriate, and reasonable information that is based on our experience, anecdotal experiences of others, or developed during the general course of study and professional development, we do not represent TerpTopics as having cornered the market on wisdom (heck, no!) or experience; one reason why links to several other good and reliable resources are made available throughout this site, and we hope that earnest seekers of knowledge will take advantage of them.


 


 

 

 

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