ASL Lessons | Bookstore | Library | ASL University Main ►

FOSTER: The American Sign Language (ASL) sign for "foster"

The right sign for "foster" depends on your intended meaning and the situation in which you are signing it.

ENCOURAGE:  If you mean "foster" as in "encourage," see: ENCOURAGE

SUPPORT:  If you mean "foster" as in support, If you mean "foster" as in "encourage," see: SUPPORT


Suggested approach:

In addition to the suggested approach to signing "foster parents" (above), interpreters and ASL instructors are also encouraged to be familiar with alternative or legacy versions of the sign so as to be adaptable and aware of historical or newer approaches to signing "foster parents."


Recognition vocabulary: Be able to recognize and interpret the meaning of the following signs when done in context:

FALSE + PARENTS-(version of "foster parents")


For many years it was common in the (American) Deaf Community to sign "foster parents" by combining the sign "FALSE" with the sign "PARENTS."

That approach may seem "harsh" to Hearing second language learners of ASL -- but the fact is that is how the concept of "foster parents" has been signed by a great many Deaf people for a great many years.  It isn't meant to be an insult.

"foster parents" (alternate version)




"foster parents" (alternate version)




"foster care" (recommended version)


Recognition vocabulary:
Interpreters should be able to recognize the legacy version of "foster care" signed by some Deaf people by using the signs FALSE + TAKE-CARE-OF

FALSE + CARE-(version of "foster care")





To do the sign for "false," move your "Index finger" quickly past your nose. Your index finger doesn't touch the nose, it just comes close.
Your index finger doesn't touch the nose, it just comes close. The movement can be in the wrist or it can be more in the elbow as I show here.  The movement is NOT in the knuckle.  Sample sentence: TRUE FALSE TESTS, YOU LIKE YOU? (Do you like true/false tests?)

Regarding using the sign commonly glossed as FALSE to mean "foster" -- the discomfort felt by some people is likely based on an overly narrow association of the signs meanings with the main English-based gloss of the sign. However, if you think of the sign as meaning "not actual" (not the birth parents) and stop limiting your mental interpretation of the sign to a subset of meanings of the English word commonly used as its gloss -- the sign no longer carries a negative feeling when used in contexts discussing foster parents.

For many, many years the sign "FOSTER-PARENT" has been used in the Deaf community without outward indication of an internal mental sense of negativity. In other words -- that was just the sign. It was not (and should not be) signed with some sort of negative facial expression.

Thus the problem here may not be that the sign FALSE is being used to mean "foster" but rather that the English word "false" has been stuck like a restrictive straightjacket over the ASL sign.






In regard to the signing of FOSTER-PARENTS:

Language changes. My advice next week might be different but my current advice to ASL educators, interpreters, students, or linguists:

1. Spell "foster" (in the concept of "foster parents") when signing to an unknown or mixed audience.
(Am I happy about that approach? My "feelings" don't matter in this situation. For my views, see my article "Colonization Via Euphemization."
The community decides. I don't get to decide what does and doesn't become standard in ASL. "You" don't either. After a new norm has been established then that is the new norm. At that point what you get to decide is whether you want your signing to be understood by the widest possible audience. If so, then sign using the most commonly recognized form of a sign. If you want to evangelize that is your choice but there is a tradeoff in recognition and an increased potential for misunderstandings.)

2. Develop the skill of recognizing multiple versions of FOSTER-PARENTS including but not limited to the use of signs typically glossed as FALSE, SHORT-(duration), and TAKE-CARE-OF.

3. If you are an interpreter and your Deaf client uses a particular sign for "FOSTER" in the concept of "foster-parents" then strive to use that sign for the duration of the interpreting assignment.

4. If asked what the sign for "foster" is or should be -- defer to the opinions of culturally-Deaf signers who use sign-language as their primary mode of face-to-face daily communication.

5. Embrace the idea that signs mean what the Deaf Community decides they mean -- not what authors label the signs as in dictionaries and textbooks.

6. If a Hearing person or fellow interpreter tells you they don't like to sign FALSE-PARENT to mean "foster parent" -- consider the situation, your role, and/or your relationship -- then if appropriate you may choose to engage them in a discussion in which you point out that if we get beyond the knee-jerk level and analyze the signs linguistically -- ASL doesn't sign FALSE to mean foster parent. Facial expressions and context matter. Basing the interpretation of a sign on anything less than the full set of parameters* and pragmatics** of a sign is inappropriate.

* The full set of parameters needs to include facial expressions (non-manual markers) in addition to such things as handshape, location, orientation, and movement.

** Pragmatics is the study of how context contributes to meaning.

Also see: FALSE

Also see: PARENTS

*  Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy
DONATE  (Thanks!)

Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)  

*  Also check out Dr. Bill's channel:

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University  
ASL resources by    Dr. William Vicars