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ASL:  Inflecting Signs

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.



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