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American Sign Language: "second"

The right sign for "second" depends on what you mean.

If you mean "second" as in "one second of time" or "there are 60 seconds in a minute" you can do a "quick" version of the sign for "minute."

Yes, that is right, the sign for "minute" is often used to mean "second."  

I know that is inefficient.  Having two concepts that use the same exact sign and rely on context (or a mouth movement to distinguish between the two meanings) is confusing.  Hey, I didn't invent the language, I'm just teaching it to you.

Do a very quick twitch of the right hand in an "index finger" handshape.  Have it do one "tick" of the clock. The movement is from the wrist and pivots on the heel of the other hand.  Remember, the movement is small and quick.



SECOND (fingerspelled)


Compare:  MINUTE

Sample sentence: "One minute has how many seconds?"

If you are discussing duration of time and you need to clearly distinguish between a "minute" and a "second" -- you can spell them out.  M-I-N and S-E-C.
Or sign "MINUTE" and spell S-E-C.

 "second" = S-E-C:


Notes and optional reading:

"Second hand"

In a message dated 10/29/2006 1:23:31 PM Pacific Standard Time, rollendonner@ writes:

Dr. Bill,
I learned a "new" sign today that [my] teacher hadn't known before: apparently the local slang for "used car" is signed with an "L" sign with the index finger pointed away from you like a pistol (at about a 45 degree angle) and shaking it back and forth a few times--like prodding someone with a gun to buy a car they don't really want? The person who had learned it from Deaf friends had no explanation but swore that it was true.
- Loren

Actually, the sign you are describing is based on a sign that means "second" as in "I second that motion," or "used / second-hand."
When at a board meeting if we want to second something we will use the "L" hand pointed somewhat forward and up.  The movement is a forward/sideward roll with a quick ending.
If you roll the sign toward a person that sign can also be used to mean, "it's your turn."
When this sign is used for cars it means "a second-hand car."
- Dr. Bill



In a message dated 7/26/2008 11:09:18 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, reed@ writes:

Hey Bill,
Just a quick note: My Deaf friend taught me to sign "second" (as in unit of time) similarly to "minute" but with a closed dominant hand.
So the secondary hand is a flat  "b" shape and the primary hand is an "s" shape, with the curled thumb and index finger against the palm. It ticks just like the sign for "minute".
Apparently, this sign is in use here in the Bay Area. It avoids the trouble of having "minute" and "second" signed the same way.
Thanks again!

Hello Reed,
Thank you for sharing your Deaf friend's version of the time sign "SECOND."
That version of the sign SECOND is what I'd call an "initialized" version. It uses the initial of the English word "second" as the handshape for the sign "SECOND." As an ASL instructor I would classify that version as "Signed English."
Some people might be tempted to knee jerk react and say that your Deaf friend doesn't sign ASL. It has been my observation however that quite a few skilled ASL users use initialization from time to time and borrow signs liberally from Signed English according to convenience. Whether or not such signs "jump the gap" and become an accepted part of ASL -- only time will tell. As of right now though I would NOT recommend using that version. If in doubt, just spell S-E-C.
But THANK YOU for the input. Seriously I appreciate it.
Dr. Bill

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