In a message dated 7/10/2008 7:01:08 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
Dear Prof. Vicars,
I stumbled across your wonderful website a few weeks ago while looking
for online ASL dictionaries. I am currently preparing a thesis on
compounding in ASL, specifically on headedness in ASL compounds. One of
the properties of a head on many languages is that its syntactic
category is passed on to the compound as a whole. Since many lexical
items in ASL can function as nouns, verbs and adjectives, derivational
processes as described by Supalla and Newport (nouns as being derived
from action verbs through repetition and restrained movement of the
verb) can be helpful in deciding to which category an element of a
compound belongs. From your comments I gather that you yourself make a
clear distinction between, say, the noun FILE and the verb TO FILE by
fast repetition of the verb.
I myself have only started learning ASL so I don't have any "native"
intuitions about that, but how do you go about this difference in
compounds? Let's assume there was a compound like FILE^FILL-OUT with the
meaning "to fill out files". Would you sign this compound with a
repeated movement for FILE, or just a single one? I read somewhere, I
think it was in Supalla, that thanks to the general assimilation and
shortening processes that apply to compounds, especially the first sign
loses repetition. I would be interested in your opinion as a native
signer and linguist about how you deal with derived nouns in compounds.
Looking forward to your reply,
many thanks in advance
Technically I'm a lexicographer rather than a linguist, but I do
teach ASL linguistics courses.
Also, while I was born hard of hearing, I am not a native signer. As is
the case for many "Deaf" people, I started learning ASL in my teenage
In response to your questions:
Actually, when signing the noun "FILE" (as in a folder) in a sentence I
normally only do one movement. To sign the verb FILE I do a larger,
more definitive movement.
I typically drop movement in noun compounds.
It is very common for nouns to drop one of the movements whether they
are in compounds or not.
Keep in mind though that if you ask a "language model" to show you the
sign "FILE" in isolation he or she will tend to do it with a double
movement. Then later that week while chatting with his friend he will
use the noun FILE in a sentence and only do a single movement! Why?
Because the context of the sentence made it clear that it was a noun.
It won't take much interaction in the Deaf community before you will
note that the sign "CHAIR" often shows up with just a single movement.
A very clear example of movement reduction is the sign "HOME-WORK."
Both the signs HOME and WORK drop one of their movements.
In a message dated 8/13/2008 5:01:48 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
Dear Prof. Vicars,
I have another question for you and hope you'll find the time to reply.
I'm doing an experiment on ASL word formation where I want to elicit
noun signs and their plural forlms. Now, I am aware of the fact that in
most cases, ASL noun plurals are expressed by just putting a numeral or
quantifier like MUCH or MANY in front of the noun to be pluralised. I
have also read (in Wilbur 1987 and Supalla & Newport 1978) that
sometimes, plural can be expressed directly on the noun, by repeating
the noun sign a couple of times, or in the case of two objects, using
the "dual inflection" where the noun sign is repeated once and the body
shifts from one side to the other. I suppose this way of plural marking
isn't very frequent, but do you have an intuition when it is more likely
to occur? Maybe there are contexts when it occurs more often than in
others, and to elicit these plural forms I could try to build up such a
Thank you very much for your reply,
Are you specifically asking about "dual inflection?" You state "this way
of plural marking" -- exactly what "way" are you referring to?
Duplication? Duplication with a body shift? Two objects? What are you
referring to when you say "it?" (below) Noun repetition?
Are you from Europe? You are spelling pluralisation with an "s." My
spell check tends to use a "z" (e.g. pluralization.) Are you doing your
dissertation? Writing a book? Got me curious now.
I have expanded upon your question at the following page:
At that page scroll down to see your question and my response.
I'd like to respond even more, but time is always an issue for me.
(Never enough of it.)
In a message dated 8/14/2008 11:21:19 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
I am indeed from Europe, specifically from Germany, and I've adopted the
's' for any -ise and -isation words cause that way I don't get muddled
up with z and s and just keep it consistent.
I am writing my undergrad thesis on compound formation in ASL, and
thanks a lot for putting the note up on your page. Unfortunately, I
don't have any process nouns among the nouns I'm testing. The idea
behind my asking for pluralisation of nouns is that I want to look at
headedness in ASL nominal compounds, and one characteristic of a head
(the more prominent element of a compound, e.g. 'house' in 'greenhouse')
is that it takes plural marking. So one way of proving that e.g. the
formal head of the compound BOOK^SHELF is the sign SHELF is by showing
that plural marking on more than one BOOK^SHELF goes onto the sign
SHELF, e.g. by signing several shelves next to each other or below each
other. I am indeed using pictures to elicit the compound nouns in
question, but for lots of them I fear native signers won't reduplicate
the noun to show pluralisation, e.g. BABY^COW, JESUS^BOOK, MUSIC^GROUP,
DEATH^ARTICLE; BOAT^PADDLE, COAT^HOOD; SKIN^YELLOW, MEDICINE^CALM-DOWN.
So my question earlier was aiming at getting contexts where signers
would reduplicate the heads of the signs just mentioned to indicate
I hope my explanations is clear, I'm kind of tired - I've been packing
all day cause I'm flying to Toronto in a few days to interview native
Thanks for your interest and help,
Your explanations are really very good. Especially the most recent one.
I can indeed see your challenge and I suspect there is no "easy"
solution, but since you've asked for help in brainstorming I'll suggest
It seems to me that you might want to try asking your models to
"exhaust" their repertoire of variations by showing you "every" way they
can think of to describe what is in the picture or video. Thus they will
end up showing you many variations and hopefully include the variations
you are looking for. Then, afterward you can ask them to discuss which
ones "feel" best. And then you can ask them to specifically comment on
the items you are seeking to explore.
In a message dated 8/25/2008 7:57:59 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
2008/8/15 Cornelia Loos <cornelia.loos@>
Thanks much for the encouragement! From my interactions with Deaf
participants up to now I get the impression that they're rather
straightforward and stick to their opinions, that's wh I feared that I won't
get much variation in form. But I'll try! And let you know if it works out
Have a good weekend,
and thanks for doing all this in your spare time
you don't know how often I've consulted your dictionary in the past few
I just wanted to keep you updated on my project: I am in Toronto now and I
have interviewed the first participant, I don't know if you know him, Adrian
Desmarais, he keeps a v-log on ASL, so you might have heard of him, anyway,
the problem I encountered was that while Adrian was perfectly fine with
signing a dual form for simple nouns (like BOOK), he couldn't sign a dual
for JESUS-BOOK by just doubling the sign for book. He could only double the
entire sign JESUS BOOK, and I'm not sure that he meant it to stand for the
plural of 'bibles'. Looks like I'll have to think of another way to elicit
compound nouns where only the head component is modified. If that is
You are encountering the sociolinguistic challenge of diglossia.
Whereas "greenhouse" is a compound in both English and American Sign
Language, "Bible" is not.
You are studying headedness of compounds.
The term "Bible" is a compound ("JESUS BOOK") in ASL and yet "Bible" is not
a compound in English.
Your language model obviously knows the term "Bible" in English and this
influences his rendering of the sign "BIBLE."
Thus you will need to account for diglossia in your research and you will
need to separate out those terms which are a compound in one language but a
single word in another language.
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