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American Sign Language: "yogurt"

For many years there was no common in the Deaf Community to spell yogurt.
Times change and language evolves, see further below for a sign that has emerged and stuck around.


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Hi Dr. Bill,
I saw the post about "yogurt" and wanted to tell you that my ASL tutor agrees that there is no formal sign for yogurt, which is really unusual, because there's been such a health food explosion, and yogurt is now as common and popular as bananas for babies. 
Suzie Fairweather, my family's ASL tutor, says that one of the preschool teachers at the BC Family Hearing Society has developed the following sign, which I thought I'd pass on to you.
Hold the non-dominant hand in a cup shape, as yogurt mostly comes in little cups, and have the dominant hand in the "Y" shape. Dip the thumb of the Y into the top of the cup and bring it to the mouth.
...We discovered that our younger daughter (one year old next week) is profoundly deaf when she was nine months old. We're being tested for Waardenburg Syndrome. Tasha is not signing much yet, but our preschooler, Fiona, signs like a house on fire, and I'm using sign language in "story-times" here at work. ...
~ Marion


YOGURT (version)



In a message dated 3/16/2017 6:32:10 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, an ASL instructor writes:

I'm laughing .. . .you said you would 'like to see me teach.' Well . . .if you did you might see me teach the sign for 'yogurt.' And I would tell the students, "The sign for yogurt is similar to the sign for 'soup' however for yogurt we use a Y handshape (instead of the U handshape instead of the U handshape that we use when we sign 'soup.')

And you would be sitting in your seat and you would shudder and cringe and inhaled-through-your-teeth and you'd be thinking . .'NO girl. That's NOT how we sign yogurt. We spell it!"


[name removed to protect her privacy]


Hello ________!


Heh. In the "old days" I used to promote the signing of YOGURT as sticking a thumb into a C hand and bringing it to the mouth. Then a fifth generation native Deaf ASL activist (and friend, heh) told me "no" in no uncertain terms.

That was quite a few years back.

Since I am an ASL instructor by vocation (passion aside -- how I "feed" my family is/was dependent on getting Hearing people to sign. Thus my bias toward sign choices leaned toward signs which my Hearing students were/are capable of producing. Back then I still hadn't wrapped my mind around the fact that since we Deaf can spell certain things faster and easier than we can sign them -- the proper and right expression of those (specific / particular) concepts is therefore via fingerspelling -- not signing.

Which is to say, as an ASL instructor I had a propensity (a "bias" actually) toward accepting signed versions of concepts over spelled versions of concepts since my Hearing students could articulate the signed versions but struggled with the spelled versions.

Eventually I realized this bias was affecting my teaching an vowed to "repent" and face the issue head on and be bold about the fact that fingerspelling is an integral part of ASL and that students need to either master that skill or go take Spanish instead.

Regardless, times change, language evolves, folks start eating yogurt, parents want a sign to use with their babies, yadda, yadda, well-meaning people start inventing signs. Some signs get criticized, some stick and spread. If enough signers in the community adopt the new sign that sign and continue using it for everyday life interactions over an extended period of time -- that sign is then no longer "wrong" but rather it has become a new "standard."

Now I'm going to take a risk here and predict the following version will spread:

YOGURT: Hold up a "Y" hand as if to sign YELLOW (palm somewhat facing back, thumb somewhat pointing up -- both at very relaxed angles) but do not rotate it. Instead bend the interphalangeal joint of the thumb twice. [Prediction date: 2017/03/17]

Why do I predict that version will spread?
Simple: It is easier than spelling YOGURT.

Time will tell.

Update: 8/25/2021:
More and more people have adopted the Y-hand eat from C-hand version of yogurt.  It is a fairly common and defensible sign at this point in time.


Years ago I saw from time to time (but I do not recommend) an initialized version of the sign ICE-CREAM done with a "Y" handshape instead of an "S" handshape.  Most Deaf adult signers consider that to be an example of signed English. I think it is just an overreaching attempt at initialization that misses the mark.  My concern with an initialized ("Y") version of ICE-CREAM  is that it conflicts with an advanced variation of "MISTAKE" that means "to make repeated errors." - Bill



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