ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library

American Sign Language: Minimal Pairs
Also see "Parameter Grouping"


Janet:  Hi there.... would it be possible to chat with you and go over some sign language "minimal pairs" for my sign language college class?  Or can I IM the info to you?  My name is Janet ______.

Dr. Bill:  Sure go ahead
[Editor's note:  Minimal Pairs are two signs which share three out of four production parameters:  handshape, movement, palm orientation and location]

JANET:  The first set I'm working on have the same handshape, movement and location but have a different palm orientation:


Can you think of any others?  I have three other parameter sets as well but I would prefer to do one at a time.  Is that ok?

Dr. Bill:  Which college do you attend?
JANET:  Columbus state community college, [Columbus, Ohio]
Dr. Bill:  Ah, I see, and your teacher won't help you with this stuff or what?
JANET:  No and i've been looking online for info and haven't found much.  I'm really rusty with my signing so I'm trying to figure out if my pairs are really ok.  I have to do four sets with one parameter of each set being different and everything else remaining the same.

Dr. Bill:  Okay, the ones you have listed are good.
Dr. Bill:  Except perhaps "choose/pick"
Dr. Bill:  Unless you are saying one is an "F" hand and the other is an 8 hand?

JANET:  Pick is up and down movement while choose is back and forth movement with everything else being the same
Dr. Bill:  Ah...I see yah..."pick up vs. choose/select"
Dr. Bill:  if I were you I'd grab a dictionary and just flip through it until I found signs that work for your project.

JANET:  I've already done that and I'm just looking for some confirmations

Dr. Bill:  k
Dr. Bill:  let me look at your list again...hd
JANET:  So, if that group looks ok how about this one…palm orientation, movement and location are the same but handshape is different:

pig/ dirty
apple/ candy

Dr. Bill:  how about:  summer, dry, ugly (except the facial expressions)
Dr. Bill:  rooster / father
Dr. Bill:  me / my
Dr. Bill:  home / yesterday
Dr. Bill:  cute  / sweet
JANET:  summer, dry and ugly I have in the category that location is different and everything else is the same right??
Dr. Bill:  um, SAD and CRY are debatable
Dr. Bill:  could also debate PIG and DIRTY--the movement is a bit different
Dr. Bill:  the signs DIRTY and PIG both use could be called "internal wiggle" but the movement itself is different.
Dr. Bill:  APPLE and CANDY are solid choices  
Dr. Bill:  WHITE/LIKE are good

JANET:  handshape, palm orientation and movement are the same while location is different --

Dr. Bill:  um cute /sweet are same location in my book (different handshape). I have though seen some people do a version of "candy" on the cheek that uses the "U" handshape.  For CANDY, I prefer to twist an index finger on my cheek. Heh.

JANET:  movement being different


What do you think?

Dr. Bill:  coffee/make  good
must/need debatable but yah  (inflection: intensity)
think/wonder yah
thirsty/swallow debatable regarding palm orientation
pain/opposite?? yah  (one version of pain, if use single movement)
wait/fire yah
cheese/paper yah
lousy/bug  yes
chocolate/church yes
disappear/start debatable location
break/change debatable handshape

Dr. Bill:  okay well looks like you will do well enough to pass eh?  I gotta jam...anything else?
JANET:  no but thanks...
Dr. Bill:  good luck and have a nice evening.
JANET:  u2
Dr. Bill:  bye
JANET:  thanks again
Dr. Bill:  :) welcome bye


Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy Dr. Bill's "Superdisk."

Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is now available!   CHECK IT OUT >

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >