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American Sign Language: "decide"

Do the sign "decide" by touching the tip of your index finger to your right forehead.  Then change the handshape into an "F" hand as you move the hand downward. At the same time as you are changing the right index finger into an "F" hand, bring up your left hand into an "F" handshape.  Then when both hands are at approximately lower chest level, drop them both "decisively" down a few inches to a quick stop.

 DECIDE (full version)

See animation: decide

There is shorter version of the sign for DECIDE. 
You just do the sign starting with "F" hands and bring them down sharply.  This sign can also mean "to determine."

DECIDE / determine (version)



In a message dated 8/24/2012 8:46:41 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, miand2464________ writes:
Dr Vicars:
I have contacted you several times in the past few years.
I took my SLPI for the first time in April. I got Survival Plus. (Which KILLED me). The scorer, _________ of the WPSD, took off major points for "overuse of initialized signs". He listed 1. BASEMENT. Which I totally knew better than. But that B hand just slipped out. 2. LIFE/LIVE. I know that the pointy finger can be tucked in for LIVE, but tons of Deaf use the L hand for that sign. Anyway, I retook it last month (advanced, thank you very much), and AGAIN he cited my "overuse" of the dreaded initialized sign. This time, he cited my D hand in DECISION. I don't even know the alternative to using the D hand for that. I think he has a bee in his bonnet regarding the issue. Do you have any thoughts on this?
The first time I broached this issue with you was the R hands in RESPONSIBILITY. Thanks for addressing that at your wonderfully helpful site. It's my GO TO site for a dictionary. I only go to ________, if you don't have the sign listed.
I hope we get to meet one day.
Mian D.

Dear Mian,
The DECIDE (decision) sign has many important ties to the "F" handshape. Let me share some information with you and tell you a story. Look at a few coins in your pocket and you'll notice that the coins which used to be made out of silver have ridges along the edges. Those ridges are there to prevent the practice of "shaving." Back in the very old days when coins were made out of precious metals if those coins had smooth round edges it was relatively easy and common for unscrupulous people to "shave" a bit of gold or silver off of the coin. Shop keepers used to put coins on a balance scale to check to judge if the incoming coin weighed as much as the reference coin. If the incoming coin didn't weigh as much, the shopkeeper could decide that it had been shaved and thus reject it. If a person was caught shaving he could end up in court.
Now, is that story true? Perhaps, perhaps not. But my point is many of those concepts: "coin," "court," "if," "judge," and "decide" are all based on the classifier "F" handshape (depiction verb) used to show a "small round object." Someone who is very familiar with and comfortable using ASL would tend feel a little "uncomfortable" using a "D" handshape for the sign "DECIDE." Also, there is no set or combination of English concepts competing for the location, orientation, movement, and handshape used by the sign "DECIDE."
The sign "NURSE" gets initialized because the English concept of "nurse" competes with the English concept of "doctor" for the same articulatory features(location, movement, orientation). The signs "GOVERNMENT" and "POLITICS" are also acceptably initialized because they too compete for the same "real estate."
The sign "DECIDE" is not competing against some other concept for the articulatory bundle consisting of: "point to head with the index finger of the dominant hand, then transition to both hands in front of you in F-handshapes and bring them both downward a short distance and end with an abrupt stop."
Thus changing the handshape from an "F" hand into a "D" hand only serves to make the sign more "English-like." Initialization in this case doesn't serve to reduce competition nor increase distinction. Rather, initialization degrades the sign "DECIDE" by pulling it further away from it's iconic roots.
Which signs should and should not be initialized isn't random. On an individual sign by sign basis it isn't even all that complex. The challenge is that cumulatively there are thousands and thousands of yet to be written "rules" that apply to ASL. I've just "written" a few of those rules for you regarding the sign for "DECIDE."
As a lexicographer I will likely be documenting such rules and explaining their applications for the rest of my life. (And it is also likely I will only manage to make a minor "dent" in the overall documentation process).
So what is a student or practitioner of a language to do? How can they come to know when initialization is and is not acceptable?
Study is helpful but only goes so far.
Beyond study it is a matter of exposure and use.
After a person has obtained sufficient knowledge and skill in ASL via frequent, prolonged, and ongoing exposure to the language via interaction with skilled signers he or she will eventually get a "feel" for what is right and what isn't right.
So, press forward and carry on!
-- Dr. Bill


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