ASL Lessons | Bookstore | Library | ASL University Main ►


MYTH:  The myth that to be correct signs should be limited to their depictive root meanings.

By William G. Vicars, EdD, (2021)

There is an ongoing myth that "in order to be correct" American Sign Language signs should be limited to their depictive root meanings and not allowed to take on other meanings.

The right way to use language isn't determined by etymologies, historical usage, books, or the opinion of well-meaning outsiders.

The right way to use language is determined by the community who speak or sign that language.

When enough people sign something in the same way to the extent that it becomes highly recognized and adopted by those for whom the language is their main method of communicating in face-to-face conversations then the signing can be considered to be correct -- regardless of how the concept used to be signed, what your ASL teacher taught you, what you read in a book, or what the sign looks like it should mean.

Often we Deaf need or want to sign something during a low context situation and we do not wish to waste time establishing unnecessary context just so we can pretend that ASL and English never overlap.

I get it -- many of you go to college for four years desperately trying to avoid signing anything that even remotely looks like English so you can please your ASL teachers and get the grades necessary to graduate and get a job and not be hungry and homeless. Many of you (often Hearing) ASL teachers out there are scared crapless about signing anything remotely English-looking for fear that the other faculty are going to out you for not signing true (cough) ASL and having cooties.

Let's consider briefly the phrase "spend time."

Sure, yes, to create the meaning of "spend time" -- lots of Deaf sign things like:
ASSOCIATE
SOCIALIZE
CONTINUE
or even just let context from our sentence or inflection of specific signs create the meaning of "spending time."

However, when we get beyond the myth and the "my ASL is better than your ASL" comparisons and take a look at the signing being done by real Deaf we will note that quite a few Deaf do sign "SPEND" + "TIME" to mean "spend time."

I'll draw your attention to the 13:56 time code of the following video where we see Alex Abenchuchan, Deaf host of the Daily Moth, signing "spend less time" by using one of the three main versions of "SPEND" and common signs for LESS and TIME.
https://youtu.be/IEf4PpwwHFY?t=835

You might be thinking, "Well, yah, but he is quoting someone speaking English."

So take a look at more examples from other Deaf. The simple fact is that many Deaf vloggers sign "SPEND" "TIME" to mean "spend time."
https://youtu.be/3qoUPfKt6cE?t=265
https://youtu.be/EEAB0lMqPJM?t=316
https://youtu.be/zxFzSViDMHU?t=231
https://youtu.be/mNerfLeRFSY?t=18
https://youtu.be/hi_xN3SY3gs?t=296
https://youtu.be/wN0b6X8Uu2E?t=101

Does that mean SPEND TIME is the "right way" to sign "spend time?"

Please don't think in all or nothing terms.

I'm saying that is "a" way -- one of many!

Just because SPEND TIME maps closely to English doesn't mean it hasn't also been adopted into ASL -- particularly for use in low-context situations.

One of the ways languages continue and grow is via borrowing. Chances are 99% or more of the Deaf originally watching that Deaf Moth newscast recognized and did not give the SPEND TIME phraseology a second thought. In other words -- it was within the scope of what we consider to be the ASL spectrum.

I encourage all to remember it is not ASL teachers, interpreters, and Hearing wannabe experts that get to decide what is and isn't ASL.

It is the Deaf Community that decides.
 



 

Notes: 

Nicole, an ASL interpreter, writes:
"I remember the first time I saw my Deaf teacher (multi-gen deaf family, grew up in residential school and graduated from Gallaudet) sign BEAUTIFUL GOOD ("pretty good"). I was asking if he liked a meal at a specific restaurant.  I was sure he was messing with me! It wasn't until I saw several other Deaf people in the community sign it that I actually believed him!  A great lesson for us to learn!"

Source: Valcarce, Nicole Cook (11/27/2021) Facebook post, group: Lifeprint-ASLU, comment_id=4370373036395190
(shared with permission)
 



Bill Vicars writes:  Yes! "PRETTY GOOD" = "pretty good" is a perfect example of what we are discussing here. Excellent! Thanks for sharing that!
May I quote your comment over at Lifeprint?  If you'd rather I share the example but make it anonymous I can do that too.
 



Nicole Valcarce writes:  Absolutely, you can quote me! You can even quote me with a name I used in a previous life, that you may recognize- Nicole Cook

 



Also see: SPEND

 




*  Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy
DONATE  (Thanks!)

Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."


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

*  Also check out Dr. Bill's channel: www.youtube.com/billvicars
 


You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University  
ASL resources by Lifeprint.com    Dr. William Vicars