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American Sign Language: Grammar (9)

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

In a message dated 8/27/2015 10:35:10 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Hello, Dr. Bill! I had a question regarding sentence structure. The sentence structure while using ASL is very different and I'm struggling to understand how a sentence should be built. I recently purchased a book titled The Directory of American Sign Language (ISBN 978-1-4351-0808-0), and the sentence structure does not seem to be as easy to understand as the structure I've observed through your website 'lessons'. Is this how you would sign this statement?


Your structures seem to flow easily whereas this structure seems complex or more 'jumbled', I guess.

Olivia Manns=

Some authors seem to "overcompensate."   They are well aware of the importance of promoting ASL as being separate and distinct from English so as to satisfy "Foreign Language" requirements at various schools and colleges.

Some authors unnecessarily twist their practice sentences to make them as different from English as possible because (to them) it just seems like the right thing to do. Using grammar structures that "look" foreign makes it seem as if the authors know what they are talking about.

There are some obvious errors in the sample sentence you provided: "I would like a big glass of milk please"  -- MILK/BIG/ME/HAVE/PLEASE

Let's discuss those errors briefly:  
HAVE: The sign HAVE is an indication of possession or existence. It is not a "request." Instead use "WANT," or "CAN HAVE?" or "you-MIND I TAKE?" or some similar sign or set of signs but not just "HAVE" in isolation.
PLEASE:  In everyday usage the sign PLEASE "rarely" comes up.  I'm actually considering getting rid of it in my curriculum.  Instead we use "YOU-MIND?" or the question form of "ALRIGHT" using the eyebrows up.  PLEASE is generally only used as a supplication to sway someone to give you something or do something for you when they don't seem to be budging. 

The currently most respected text on ASL grammar "Linguistics of American Sign Language" explains that adjectives can often come either before or after the noun (YELLOW HOUSE) or (HOUSE, YELLOW).
If you want to "really" understand ASL grammar, get that book. I recommend seeking a used version since it is rather expensive. (Which is perhaps why so many authors apparently haven't read it themselves and are thus coming up with some really strange grammar rules instead of those based on actual linguistic research from experts like the good folks from Gallaudet University who wrote the "Linguistics of American Sign Language" text.
I think it is important that curriculum writers start emphasizing context.  Chances are the signer would actually just be signing:  "MILK volume-height-LARGE" (just two signs -- MILK and that specialized version of LARGE) in response to a question as to what the person wants to drink. All of the other signs would be wasted and thus unlikely to happen consistently in actual everyday usage.  The "please" concept would be show via a smile on the face not a separate sign. The HAVE concept would be "understood" from context. The "ME" concept would be understood from context (the waiter just asked me want I wanted to drink -- obviously my reply will indicate what I want to drink -- not some other person).
Dr. Bill
p.s. Please see:
p.p.s.  I looked up that book on Amazon and I get the feeling it is not a good one to be studying from. I recommend you get something better like "Learning American Sign Language" by Carol Padden.

Topic:  Incorporation of meaning:
Suppose someone were to ask you, "How do you sign 'take' in ASL?"   That is a loaded question. The proper reply would be rather long and complex.  I'm not going to get into all the versions of TAKE in this section but I will point out that the phrase:  "Take a taste of..." is not signed by using the sign commonly labeled as TAKE.  Likewise, "take a break" would use a sign such as PAUSE and/or VACATION rather than the sign for TAKE commonly listed in ASL dictionaries. We can use "one" sign to mean "take a taste of." How do we account for this in ASL grammar?  We use the approach of "topic comment" sentence structure.  INDEX-(he) TAKE-A-TASTE-OF-(something-at-table-height).  "He" is the topic and "took a taste of..." is the comment.  Additionally "he" could be expressed via "roll-taking" and not need a separate sign (in context -- if the person and the situation has been set up in your story already)



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