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American Sign Language: Grammar (15)

Grammar links:  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 |   Also see: Inflection


Tense in ASL:  Time concept syntax:  Where should we put the time concept in sentences?

Consider the sentence: "Have you ever lived in a big city?"

Many ASL instructors will tend to sign that as: PAST, CITY LARGE, YOU LIVE YOU?
I've never liked that sentence construction because it creates "tense confusion."   It could be argued that the sentence is creating the meaning of "in the past the city was large, did you live there (when it was large)?"  Thus, for sentences involving the concept of "have you ever" moving the time concept closer to the subject "you" (rather than the object "the city")
is more clear.
- Dr. Bill

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A colleague writes:

Dear Dr. Bill,
Thank you.  Your explanation makes perfect sense. I think some ASL instructors have learned that in ASL we establish 'time' at the beginning of a sentence and fail to realize that there are exceptions to that so-called 'rule.'   I would sign: you, in-the-past, large, city, live-in, you?   Would that be correct?  Or can you suggest a better way to sign it?
Lyn _____
(Name changed to protect his/her privacy.)

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Dear Lyn,

The previous size of the city is not the aspect of the sentence on which we want to focus.
"You" (our conversation partner) previously living in or not living in the city -- is that on which we want to focus.

We are not trying to say, "Once upon a time there was a large city, and in it lived a young princess named Lynderella."

Instead we are trying to say, "Once upon a time a young princess named Lynderella lived in a large city."

We do not want to add tense to the city.
We want to add tense to "live."

We are not trying to change "city" to "in the past the city."
We are trying to change "live" to "lived."

Or rather, "Once upon a time did you live in a large city?"

I'd go with:
YOU PAST LIVE BIG CITY YOU?
or
BIG CITY, YOU PAST LIVE YOU?
or
BIG CITY, YOU LIVE BEFORE YOU?

Or my favorite:
YOU LIVE BIG CITY BEFORE YOU?

But, no, I don't like the sentence:
PAST BIG CITY LIVE YOU?
We want to know your history, not the history of the city.
The sign for PAST needs to be closer to either YOU or LIVE than it is to "BIG CITY."

I think another "issue" I have with the discussion of this sentence (and similar sentences) is the fact that many ASL instructors fail to ask, "What was discussed prior to this sentence occurring in the conversation?"

We act like the sentence takes place in a vacuum.  Instead we need to consider if earlier in the conversation it has been established where the conversation partner lives CURRENTLY!!!  The use of a time concept in the middle of a paragraph or conversation is (or often should be) influenced by previously shared information.






 


 


 


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