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am

 

Note: There is a Signed English sign for "AM" that is not ASL
You may have learned elsewhere that we generally do not use specific signs for "state of being verbs" in ASL.

Now that I've said that the (Signed English) sign"AM" isn't used as a "be verb" in ASL, you might wonder why I would show it to you at all?

Suppose you are teaching a linguistics or interpreting class and you want to talk about the English word "am" in order to explain how it would be interpreted.  How would you sign it?  The easy answer would be to simply "fingerspell" the letters "A-M."  

There is a "signed English" sign for the word "am."
This sign could be used when talking about the English word "am" --  that is different from using "am" as a state of being verb.

Let me give an example.  Suppose a teacher is using ASL to teach an English class to a group of Deaf children who also know and use ASL.  The teacher wants her pupils to know about and be able to use "state of being verbs" when they are reading and writing English.  So she signs to them: 

"ENGLISH (bodyshift) ASL DIFFERENT. HUH/WHAT DIFFERENT? GRAMMAR!  MEAN GRAMMAR? SENTENCE, WORD PUT, PUT, PUT (placing words in an imaginary sentence that is hovering in front of the teacher as she signs this).  (Left G-hand shows a word at the front of the sentence, right G hand shows a string of words after the first word.) Facial expression, "surprise/concern."  Left G-hand reaches into sentence and pulls out a small word and holds it up for examination.  Right hand signs "FUNNY, STRANGE, huh/WHAT IT (points at the word being held by the left hand,) (answers own question, "BE VERB!")  

At which point she goes on to talk about BE verbs.  At no point in time will she sign anything other than ASL during the conversation but she will indeed make use of the signs that represent the English words "is, am, are, be, ..." and so forth -- but only because she is talking about the words. She is using them as "nouns" to name the English concepts. She is not using those signs as ASL be verbs. The equivalent to this would be a teacher explaining a foreign language and occasionally modeling a foreign word.

For example an English as a second language instructor may sign,  "TODAY I EXPLAIN ENGLISH WORD QUOTE AM QUOTE."
Meaning:  "Today I am going to explain the word 'am' to you."

Along these same lines, consider "fingerspelling."  Fingerspelling is ASL even though it is used  to represent English letters.

So anyway, I'm going to show you the "English" sign for AM.
This sign is not ASL and if you are striving to sign in ASL you should not use this sign outside of an English classroom or similar situation to talk about the concept.

It is an "A" handshape that starts out touching the chin then moves forward three inches or so.

Remember, in ASL we do NOT use "AM" in sentences like "I am going to the store."  Instead you would sign "I GO STORE" and nod your head affirmatively.



ASL:  "I am"  (See: https://youtu.be/-IcqhAe-HO0 )

There is a sign that is rather often used to express the concept of "I am" when introducing yourself to a group or in a situation that is more formal than simply two people meeting.

Some people may feel that the use of the honorific pronoun "I" as in "I am" is unhumble.  However plenty of other people have no problem whatsoever using "I am."

In a survey of 21 aspiring ASL teachers participating in a teacher training course "8" out of "21" were using or would use the "I am" sign to introduce themselves. (Source: Gamache, Keith (Jun 12, 2021) "ASL Pronouns" YouTube video ID EKD1guqBvrg)

When one-third of a population sample signs something a certain way and has apparently been doing so for years -- ASL teachers need to reflect on whether they are going to be "descriptive" teachers (teaching what is actually in use) or "prescriptive" teachers (teaching what used to be used and/or what they "think or feel" should be used based on past usage -- but isn't actually reflective of the signing going on in the Deaf Community "right now").

Before deciding the "rightness" or "wrongness" of a sign (in this case, "I am" -- it would seem a good idea to further investigate the extent and ways it is actually being used in the Deaf Community.

For you're your consideration:

See the 2 second mark of:
https://youtu.be/VSfgzF_mAu4?t=2
(I am Mikey Krajnak)


The 4 second mark of of https://youtu.be/ICBGc3FXFyQ?t=4
Hello, I am Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, NAD.


0:11 of https://youtu.be/MXphW5AeCHU?t=11
(I am Gianna)


7:41 of https://youtu.be/CCezOxy61_E?t=460
(Hello, I am Regan.)


0:05 of https://youtu.be/RvcVCeU_7xI?t=5
(Shane Feldman, RID "I am ...")


0:54 of https://youtu.be/8QYiVSltL6s?t=53
(I am Susan Schatz and this is Mary Ann Kinsella-Meier)


0:03 of https://youtu.be/ao3GKaJ8UXk?t=3
(Hello, I am Darren Holst, Vice President of OAD.)


0:03 of https://youtu.be/jC7FryogM1o?t=3
(Hello, I am Sasha Ponappa.)


0:10 of https://youtu.be/NtY2QpLPqOs?t=10
(I am Lisa Anderson-Kellett.)


See the beginning of https://youtu.be/RYu3o5wEzKc
(Hi, My name is Thomas Koch) Then see
(I'm Liz Jarashow) at 2:46
(Hello! I am Matthew) at 2:50
(I'm Bobby Barden) at 2:53


0:04 of https://youtu.be/0VA-_MjXS8I?t=4
(Hello, I am Anna Witter-Merithew, the current interim Executive Director of RID.)


1:25 of : https://youtu.be/gnPF73VokmU?t=85
(Hi, I am Kellynette Gomez.)


1:53 of https://youtu.be/gnPF73VokmU?t=113
(Hi, I'm Ericka Baylor,)


0:10 of https://youtu.be/gnPF73VokmU?t=10
(I'm Bobbi Cordano, President of Gallaudet University.)


While the above examples do not "prove" anything -- they do seem to lend support to the idea that the use of the "I am" sign is evolving to be not as honorific these days as it was in the past and that the sign is rather commonly used by many folks to simply introduce themselves - (if those videos are any indication).

 


A person commented:
"...the "self honorific" introduction/pronoun seems weird. "

Response from Bill:
I would suggest that perhaps things only seem "weird" until they don't. By that I mean, after enough exposure things tend to no longer seem weird.

The point being, suppose a person actually dived into and reviewed each of the time codes of the videos below perhaps the "I am" sign would seem less weird?

When we see numerous Deaf using "I am" in common "introduction" scenarios -- including seeing the President of Gallaudet uses it in a video with various students -- the sign (to me anyway) seems a lot less "weird" and instead seems rather common.

See the 2 second mark of:
https://youtu.be/VSfgzF_mAu4?t=2
(I am Mikey Krajnak)
The 4 second mark of of https://youtu.be/ICBGc3FXFyQ?t=4
Hello, I am Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf, NAD.
0:11 of https://youtu.be/MXphW5AeCHU?t=11
(I am Gianna)
7:41 of https://youtu.be/CCezOxy61_E?t=460
(Hello, I am Regan.)
0:05 of https://youtu.be/RvcVCeU_7xI?t=5
(Shane Feldman, RID "I am ...")
0:54 of https://youtu.be/8QYiVSltL6s?t=53
(I am Susan Schatz and this is Mary Ann Kinsella-Meier)
0:03 of https://youtu.be/ao3GKaJ8UXk?t=3
(Hello, I am Darren Holst, Vice President of OAD.)
0:03 of https://youtu.be/jC7FryogM1o?t=3
(Hello, I am Sasha Ponappa.)
0:10 of https://youtu.be/NtY2QpLPqOs?t=10
(I am Lisa Anderson-Kellett.)
See the beginning of https://youtu.be/RYu3o5wEzKc
(Hi, My name is Thomas Koch) Then see
(I'm Liz Jarashow) at 2:46
(Hello! I am Matthew) at 2:50
(I'm Bobby Barden) at 2:53
0:04 of https://youtu.be/0VA-_MjXS8I?t=4
(Hello, I am Anna Witter-Merithew, the current interim Executive Director of RID.)
1:25 of : https://youtu.be/gnPF73VokmU?t=85
(Hi, I am Kellynette Gomez.)
1:53 of https://youtu.be/gnPF73VokmU?t=113
(Hi, I'm Ericka Baylor,)
0:10 of https://youtu.be/gnPF73VokmU?t=10
(I'm Bobbi Cordano, President of Gallaudet University.)

One reason why the recognition of the de facto (in fact, or in effect, whether by right or not) usage of "I am" is important is that the sign is indeed appearing on the hands of Deaf people.

That means interpreter trainer programs (or ASL programs) that fail to teach the sign (at least as a variation) will be doing a disservice to their students and the Deaf Community (since we Deaf will be the future clients of students who didn't learn the "I am" sign or were told that it was "inappropriate" -- when simple observation seems to indicate that the sign is fairly common throughout the Deaf community.



I think we can start to develop usage notes for the "I am" sign based on observation of the situations in which it is and isn't used.

Note that just because I refer to the sign as "I am" doesn't preclude other labels for the sign. Such a label is for convenience in discussion.

Also, whether or not an individual Deaf person -- or even thousands of Deaf people-- like or agree with the sign "I am" doesn't negate the fact that a large and significant number of Deaf people use the sign "I am" when introducing themselves.

Ten individuals that were not present and did not see an event happen do not negate the credibility of ten witnesses that were present and did see an event happen. Ten people who don't think broccoli tastes good doesn't preclude ten other people from liking the taste of broccoli.

Some observations and usage notes:

The "I am" sign seems more formal than simply pointing at oneself -- it can be honorific but it is not necessarily so. (This concept of formality can be categorized under the heading of "social register.")

The "I am" sign seems to be influenced by the sign INTRODUCE / introduction and could perhaps be thought of as more of a version of the sign INTRODUCE (that happens to be directionally pointed at oneself) than as an arrogant version of "honorific-ME."

The sign "I am" typically is NOT used in one-on-one or small group in-person introductions where someone would tend to simply say "Hi I'm Bill." The "I am" sign would likely seem odd if used during one-on-one or very-small group personal introductions.

Some of the situations in which the "I am" sign shows up include:
When someone might tend to use the phrase "Allow me to introduce myself."
When someone steps up to a lectern to address a large audience and desires to introduce theirself.
When someone is creating a video for wide dissemination and desires to introduce theirself.

Note: The existence of other ways to introduce oneself (e.g. pointing at oneself and spelling one's name) doesn't preclude the legitimacy of the "I am" sign in a vein similar to the existence of white swans doesn't preclude the existence of a black swan.

 

 

 




American Sign Language University ASL resources by Lifeprint.com Dr. William Vicars
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