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American Sign Language: "monkey" (discussion)

For the sign "monkey" see: MONKEY



<<Mimi writes:
I'm looking for the sign for CHIMPANZEE. Consider this is for children who know the difference between a monkey, chimp, gorilla and orang, but aren't old enough to fingerspell. Can you help?>

Dear Mimi (Melinda)
Hello :)
In American Sign Language there are no widely or consistently used signs to distinguish the "variations" of primates.
There are only two "popular" or "common" signs used for referring to primates. The MONKEY sign, and the APE sign.
The MONKEY sign is used to represent the smaller primates and the APE sign represents apes and gorillas.
The MONKEY sign scratches your sides upwards with both hands simultaneously and repeats the motion once.
The APE sign beats on your chest using alternating hands (in a fist handshape).
Note: You don't actually have to make contact with your sides or chest for either of the two signs. If you are hamming it up or being theatrical you will use bigger movements and more contact.
I would suggest to you that "Hearing adults" tend to underestimate the ability of children to fingerspell and to read fingerspelling. Many people approach fingerspelling as a series of letters on the hand. Children that grow up in signing households tend to handle fingerspelling as "signs" that have a general flow and shape pattern. At age 2, my daughter, Kesley, used to morph the letters V, I, and T together to express the concept of "vitamin."
Thus if you spell words like "chimp" often enough using fluent fingerspelling, the kids will pick up on what it means and will start doing their own "version" of fingerspelling that perhaps looks like the letters C and P. You would spell ORANG to mean orangutan. And eventually it would start looking like ORG then even "OG." This is known as "lexicalized fingerspelling."
Now, since I realize that you probably "still" want specific signs for primates (even though I've told you how it would be handled in a culturally appropriate way), I'll suggest to you the group of people that I would consider to be experts in the various signs for primates: The Gorilla Foundation.
I will cc this to them at and also to their "kid question email service: and see if they know of any signs for "chimp" vs "orangutan."
Or, for faster service, pick up the phone and call 1-800-ME-GO-APE (seriously, that is the number listed at their website). Or mail them at: The Gorilla Foundation, P.O. Box 620530, Woodside, CA 94062
Dr. Bill


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