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American Sign Language: "agent"


The concept of "agent" has many variations and interpretations.

Let's start with the general meaning of an agent as "a person who does something."

The sign for "person" is sometimes initialized with the letter "P" -- but in everyday signing there is generally no reason to use the "P" handshapes. You can just use "flat" hands.

When you use the PERSON-[agent] sign in combination with other signs you should always use "flat" hands (not "P"-hands). 

The "PERSON-[agent]" sign in general, represents either "a person" or can be added to certain verbs to indicate "a person who does" the verb.  For example, when used with teach:  "TEACH-PERSON-[agent]" means "teacher."  See: TEACHER

The PERSON-[agent] sign can also be used to mean an "individual."




QUESTION:  A student posted:
Hey, I've been watching the TV show "Agent Carter" and was wondering how one would go about signing "agent", as in a person working for the government. How would tat work?

If we think of an agent as someone who is an official representative of a government or agency that typically issues badges to their agents then we could sign "agent" using a modified-C-[index_and_thumb] on the non-dominant side of the chest. One contact (tap) if used as part of the designation "AGENT-CARTER" or a tendency toward two taps if used as a separate noun as in "She is an agent."

If we use the one tap method for "SHE AGENT" it tends to take on the meaning of "She is someone whom has been granted a badge and is therefore representative of the agency granting the badge" -- thus either way (one or two contacts) the general concept comes across for "She is an agent."

Sometimes the non-initialized sign for person is referred to as the "AGENT" sign. It uses flat hands that move downward and has become a popular way to sign "person" (since excessive initialization is something to be avoided in ASL). This "agent" PERSON-[non-initialized] sign can mean "person" in general or can be used as a suffix to turn certain verbs into nouns that refer to a "person who does" the action represented by the verb. For example RUN-PERSON = "runner." In some descriptions you might see the same concept glossed as "RUN-AGENT" which is simply another way of indicating the same concept. Or you may even see: "RUN-PERSON-[agent]" which I think is very specific and clear as to what you are trying to describe.

If you mean "agent" as in insurance agent use "SELL-PERSON."

If you mean “agent” as in someone who represents someone else you could sign “SHOW-PERSON-[agent]” which ties into the concept of “representative” which is also signed by using the “SHOW-PERSON-[agent]” sign.

If you are referring to a chemical agent you could use a combination of signs like SOIL-[substance], THING, “CAUSE-[catalyst]”, “HIT-[impact]”, INFLUENCE/effect/advise, START/begin, SPREAD, CHANGE, etc. – according to the specific chemical. If you are in a mixed language environment [classroom, lab with Hearing coworkers] you should additionally spell AGENT enough to establish the term so if it appears in writing (e.g. on a test or in a document) the student or employee will recognize it.

If you are referring to a “free agent” such as an athlete who is eligible to contract with any franchise you could spell F-R-E-E A-G-E-N-T and then use signs such as not-YET SIGNATURE-[contract/sign-up-with/register] OFFER-to-me++[various] HE/SHE CAN THINK-SELF CHOOSE-[select] TEAM HE/SHE WANT JOIN.
In some advanced theological (church) discussions you might sign “agent” using REPLACE/instead/substitute-PERSON-[agent]. Note: the gloss “++” indicates that a sign is done repeatedly.

If you are using “agent” as in a “secret agent” you could sign SECRET, spell A-G-E-N-T and then use the INVESTIGATE sign while using “sneaky” body language.

If the “agent” is someone functioning as a “go-between” you could use the FACILITATE-PERSON-[agent] sign.

If you are the boss and the “agent” is your assistant you could sign “MY ASSISTANT.”

Prior to the internet wiping out the profession of individuals who help arrange travel for others we used to have “travel agents.” To indicate a “travel agent” you would sign TRAVEL and spell A-G-E-N-T. If expansion is necessary you would use signs like HE/SHE PLAN MY TRAVEL. CHECK-[investigate]++ FLY SCHEDULE RESERVE FOR ME.


Also see:  PEOPLE


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