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ASL Linguistics: Syntax

In American Sign Language, we have a different syntax. In general, the order of our words in a sentence follows a "TOPIC" "COMMENT" arrangement. This is could also called "subject" + "predicate" sentence structure. 

Plus you will often see this structure: "TIME" + "TOPIC" + "COMMENT."

For example:
"WEEK-PAST ME WASH CAR "
or "WEEK-PAST CAR WASH ME "

I personally prefer the first version. Depending on which expert you listen to, you will hear that one way is better than the other.  Anyone who tells you that ASL can't use a "subject" + "verb" + "object" sentence structure is simply denying reality.  ASL uses SVO quite often.  What it doesn't use is "subject" + "be-verb" + "object."  For example, in ASL you wouldn't sign the "is" in "HE IS MY BROTHER."  You'd simply sign "HE MY BROTHER" while nodding your head.  Instead of signing "IS" you nodded your head.  "IS" didn't "disappear" it simply took a "non-manual" form.  Which is why we say that ASL doesn't use "be verbs."  The concept of being and existing are still conveyed--but we do it without "be verbs."  Instead we nod our heads, and/or use signs like "HAVE" and "TRUE."


"I am a teacher," could be signed:
"I TEACHER I"
"I TEACHER"
"TEACHER I"

also, "I am from Utah," could be signed:
"I FROM UTAH I"
"I FROM UTAH"
"FROM UTAH I"


All of the above examples are "correct." You could sign any of those sentences and still be signing ASL.  My philosophy is to do the "correct" version that works for the greatest number of signers. I've lived in Utah, California, Indiana, Washington D.C., Texas, and Oregon, plus I've visited quite a few other places. It has been my experience during my various travels that "I STUDENT" and "I FROM CALIFORNIA" work just fine and are less confusing than "STUDENT I" and "FROM CALIFORNIA I."

As far as a sentence without "be" verbs, the English sentence "I am a teacher" would be signed:
"TEACHER ME " or even "ME TEACHER."  You drop the "am" and instead nod your head.
 
Negation Grammar Classifiers




 


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