ASL Lessons | Bookstore | Library | ASL University Main ►
Topic: Inflection / inflecting / inflected
ASL users inflect their signs to modify the meaning of the signs.
For example, instead of using a sign for "VERY" in the sentence, "I am very happy to be done with the semester." A skilled ASL user would sign "I HAPPY SEMESTER FINISH." He would do the sign "happy" in an exaggerated fashion with a bigger movement and a slight hold on the first "slap of the chest." Plus he would use increased facial expression and maybe a quick glance upward.
You could inflect the sign "slow" by doing it slower than normal, which would mean "very slow." (Interestingly enough though, if you use a very quick movement to do the sign slow it also means "very slow.")
ASL often creates "adverbs" by simply inflecting existing signs.
What is an "adverb?"
Adverbs are units of language that are used to change the meaning of verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
ASL adverbs can be signs, facial expressions, modifications (changes) in the way we move a sign, or modifications in the length of time we hold a sign in one place .
For example, suppose our friend got sunburned badly and I wanted to tell you about it, I might wish to express the concept:
"His face was very red."
In that sentence the word "very" is an adverb. The word "red" is an adjective.
In ASL I'd use the signs: "HIS FACE RED." To indicate the concept of "very red" I would "inflect" (change the way I signed) the concept "red" in the following ways:
1. I'd use an intense facial expression
2. I'd hold the initial handshape in starting location for a fraction of an instant longer before starting the movement.
3. I'd do a larger downward movement.
4. I'd hold the ending handshape in the ending location for a fraction of an instant longer than normal.
5. At the beginning of the sign I'd tilt my head back slightly and then as I did the sign I'd nod my head using a single, short, quick movement.
6. My elbow would stick slightly farther out to the side at the beginning of the sign and bring the elbow down sharply during the sign.
Those six modifications (inflections) to the sign "RED" would change the sign to mean "very-RED." So you could call those six modifications "an adverb" or a combination of adverbs.
In regard to a phrase such as "MANY MANY BIRD" Mark Myers asked if the repetition of MANY would be considered inflection or if it would be considered "repetition for emphasis."
Define inflection then you can answer your question. If you define "inflect" to mean "change a word (or sign) in such a way as to add grammatical information" -- you can then compare the two language samples:
"MANY" vs "MANY MANY"
and ask: "Does "MANY MANY" mean more than MANY?"
-- and decide that yes, "MANY MANY" means more than "MANY." Then you can deduce (decide) that you have added grammatical information to the sign MANY by changing the way you signed MANY (by repeating the movement) and therefore have used inflection.
Next you need to define "emphasis."
According to Oxford, "emphasis" means "special importance, value, or prominence given to something."
(Source: emphasis. 2018. English, Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved: December 30, 2018 from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/inflection )
Ask yourself if "MANY!" is different from "MANY MANY."
I can make a statement that there were "many, many" fish in the sea -- without having emphasized the fact that in regard to the number of fish in the sea -- there are "many!"
We emphasize things to which we want others to attach special importance or value.
Let's go back and "seriously" define "inflect."
According to the Oxford Dictionary:
"inflection" (in·flec·tion) (inˈflekSH(ə)n) noun:
1. Inflection: a change in the form of a word (typically the ending) to express a grammatical function or attribute such as tense, mood, person, number, case, and gender.
Example: "When I read my lines, he'd gently correct my pronunciation and inflection."
Synonyms: stress, cadence, rhythm, accent, intonation, pitch, emphasis, modulation, lilt, tone.
2. Inflection: the modulation of intonation or pitch in the voice.
Example: "She spoke slowly and without inflection."
Synonyms: stress, cadence, rhythm, accent, intonation, pitch, emphasis, modulation, lilt, tone
(Source: inflection. 2018. English, Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved: December 30, 2018 from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/inflection )
According to Merriam-Webster:
inflection (in·flec·tion) (in-ˈflek-shən) noun:
1. inflection: the act or result of curving or bending : BEND
2. inflection: change in pitch or loudness of the voice
a : the change of form that words undergo to mark such distinctions as those of case, gender, number, tense, person, mood, or voice
b : a form, suffix, or element involved in such variation
(Source: inflection. 2018. In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved December 30, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inflection )
In both of those definitions we see that "inflection" can be used for both "emphasis" and/or for "number."
So, at this point we can state that either way we are covered:
Whether you are using MANY MANY for emphasis or you are using MANY MANY to indicate "an increased number of" you are in either case (according to conventional definitions) making use of inflection.
There however is another argument here: You can decide that you are not simply "changing" the way you are signing MANY but rather, you can decide that by repeating the sign MANY you are in fact doing the same sign twice. Thus you are not "inflecting one sign" -- rather you are instead doing "one sign twice." You are not deriving a PLANE from a repeated FLY. You are not deriving a CHAIR from a repeated SIT. You are not signing MANY!-(emphasized). You are in fact signing MANY MANY.
If we decide that what you have done is to sign the same sign twice we could argue that you did not "inflect" the sign but rather that you have created an adjectival phrase equivalent to "lots and lots." Would English speakers consider themselves to have "inflected" the word "lots" by having repeated it? No, they would not.
Thus are overlapping ways to look at the concept of "MANY MANY." Which way we choose to look at it will be decided via context.
The sign MANY can be inflected via repetition to create a single adjectival phrase for the purpose of indicating either emphasis or an increased quantity.
* Want to help support ASL University? It's easy: DONATE (Thanks!)
* Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."
* Want even more ASL resources? Visit the "ASL Training Center!" (Subscription Extension of ASLU)
* Also check out Dr. Bill's channel: www.youtube.com/billvicars
You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™
ASL resources by Lifeprint.com © Dr. William Vicars