ASL University |
In a message dated 8/28/2007 7:20:11 P.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, an instructor writes:
Dear Dr. Bill:
Is there a difference between ASL phrases and ASL
I received a list that was titled "asl phrases" but they look
like idioms to me. HELP???
people do not have this information. They assume that the sign HEARING
is equivalent to the spoken English word "hearing" and thus the phrase
"Hearing people" seems peculiar and is considered an "Idiom." So
whether something is an idiom or not can depend on your point of view.
Yes, there is a difference between an "ASL phrase" and an "ASL Idiom."
Let's establish some definitions:
1. A set of two or more ASL signs arranged in a sentence.
2. A set of two or more ASL arranged as a meaningful unit preceded and
followed by pauses.
3. A brief utterance or remark that commonly occurs in the ASL Deaf
1. An expression in American Sign Language the meaning of which is not
predictable from the usual meanings of its individual signs. For example
"train gone." The meanings "you missed it" and "I will not go back and
repeat my recent narrative," are not predictable from the individual
constituents "train" and "gone (diminish into the distance)."
2. An expression that is peculiar to the ASL Deaf Community.
3. A construction or expression of American Sign Language the parts of
which correspond to elements in another language (typically English) but
the meaning of which is does not match the meaning in the second language. **
All idioms are phrases, but not all phrases are idioms.
There are multiple definitions for the terms "phrase" and "idiom."
If you are using one definition and your colleague is using a different
definition confusion and disagreement will result.
A phrase can be an idiom to one person and not an idiom to a different
When examined from outside of the Deaf world, many ASL Phrases might be
considered "idioms." Those same phrases when considered from inside the
Deaf world would not be considered "idioms." To a
the phrase "Hearing person" simply refers to someone who tends to
"speak" (with their mouth) and is not culturally Deaf. The phrase "Hearing person" doesn't
seem peculiar to Deaf people. Which means that to Deaf people the
phrase "Hearing person" doesn't seem like an idiom. Deaf people consider
the phrase "Hearing" to be a fitting description since we have inside
information. We know that the sign "HEARING"-(culturally) also means
"speak" (or even "public").
Point 4: An ASL signer developing an ASL curriculum might create a list
of signs and label it as "idioms" because the person doesn't know the equivalent
phrase in English. A classic example is the "GULP"-(claw hand closes
into "S" hand at base of neck) sign. There is a very close English
equivalent to this sign. The English word is "chagrinned." But since the
corresponding word is unfamiliar to the ASL signer he/she/they label the sign
as an idiom.
Point 5: Sometimes people mislabel "multiple meaning"
signs or signed phrases as
idioms. This occurs when signs or signed phrases have many possible interpretations.
Some curriculum developers might call such phrases "idioms" rather than take
the time to fully examine the meanings and matching interpretations of
the phrase.. For example, the "SICK-YOU"-(one handed, jab motion) sign.
This sign has several English equivalents, for example, "That's
twisted!," "You pervert!," "You pest!," "I am so tired of that!" "It was
funny the first time but now it is just annoying."
Point 5: A Hearing person might make a list of phrases and call it a
list of idioms because to him the phrases seem peculiar. A deaf person
might look at the same list and scratch his head wondering why these
common phrases are being labeled as idioms.
** An example of a mismatched meaning between ASL and English: At the Indiana School for the Deaf I observed a
third-grade girl turn to the boy behind her and sign "FINISH-(one-handed) BOTHER ME!"
and simultaneously mouthing / voicing "Finish bother me!" In ASL the expression "FINISH BOTHER
ME" means "knock it off, quit, and/or stop bothering me." In English the word
"finish" can mean "continue an action until you have completed your
task." Thus to a "Hearing person" the expression "FINISH BOTHER ME"
seems peculiar. Another example is the expression
The phrase "Hearing people" is very common in the Deaf world, but it
seems peculiar to people who are not members of the Deaf Community.
(William G. Vicars, Ed.D.)
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