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American Sign Language: "Texas"

To do the sign for "Texas," do an "X" hand on your dominant hand and move it to the right (if you are right handed, or left if you are left handed) and down.
It is sort of like drawing a "7" in the air using an "X" hand. 


Texas (animated)



A student named David writes: 
<<Dr. Bill,
Complete confusion here on my part.  The signer isn't you, she isn't using the "x" hand but the "d" hand, and she isn't moving in a "7" but in a banana arc.  And no explanation of what "7 & x" should convey.  My teacher taught the class "Paris, France" as an Eiffel Towel and that makes sense, but how does "7 & x" convey Texas?
- David

Dr. Bill replies: are right. She isn't me, heh. No plastic surgeon in the world could pull that off.  "Crystil" was a language model I hired many years ago as part of an interpreter training workshop I was conducting for a school district.  Having lived in Texas for three years I consider myself somewhat well versed in the sign "TEXAS" but I thought it would be interesting to show Crystil signing Texas.

Now...the handshape is indeed an "X."  She's just doing a very "loose" X. Her index finger is slightly bent, plus her other fingers are curled in more than would be done for a "D."  The movement is right then down.  Admittedly she is starting farther to the left and doing the sign much higher than I do.

Allow me to get on my soapbox for a moment.  Signs don't have to "look-like" anything.  Does the English word "bus" look like a bus?  No, the word "bus" is very small, not yellow, and has no wheels, yet English users continue to use it to refer to something that looks completely different.  Does a "dog" look like a "dog?"

It makes no more sense to use the English word "dog" to refer to a "dog" than it makes to move an "x" in a "7" shape to mean "Texas."  And that is my point. American Sign Language doesn't have to be "iconic."  ASL signs don't have to "make sense." They don't have to "look like" the concept they are representing any more than English words have to "sound-like" the concepts being "talked about." 

Hearing people don't say "woof" to mean "dog."  They say, "DOG."  If you took English classes when you were in school, I bet you didn't tell your English teacher that the word Texas didn't make sense. You didn't tell her that the word should be "bigger" (longer) since Texas is a big state.

Deaf people don't have to use a "T" from English to represent their sign in ASL for TEXAS. The sign Texas doesn't have to map to English whatsoever.  The sign "TEXAS" means "Texas" because of "convention" (ASL users recognize it and use it because others use it).

But, since I know that it helps Hearing people to learn (acquire, categorize, store, and retrieve) signs if the signs have a "story" of origin (particularly a story that connects to their existing knowledge of English), I'm going to share with you what I told by an online student named Erin from Corpus Christi, Texas.  According to her instructor down in Texas, the movement of the TEXAS sign represents the "panhandle" of Texas. 

Take a look at the graphic on the left, (courtesy of Wikipedia and the Texas State Historical Association). The red area is considered to be the "panhandle" of Texas.  Notice how "square" it is?  Notice the "across and down" outer perimeter?

The "X" handshape in the sign TEXAS is based on the
 'x' in Te'X'as.  Also note that Texas is the only state with an 'x' in it's name. 


So, ta-da! You now have a perfectly good explanation for why Texas is signed the way it is.

Is that "really" the "right" explanation of the origin of the sign for Texas?  (Is it the right "etymology?")  Maybe.  Maybe not.

The fact is many "place or location" signs tend to use that same "square" or "7" type movement.  It is so common as to be a "default" generic movement path for city name signs. 

But hey, if the "panhandle" / "X" explanation helps get you through your next ASL test with an "A" grade then BOOYAH!!!
Mission accomplished!
-- Dr. Bill

Another example, this time from Byron Cantrell.


(Model: Byron Cantrell)

Note: Check out that mouth morpheme!!!  Byron (native Deaf) is literally forming a specific mouth shape as part of his version of the sign for Texas! 

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