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Omission of unit designators in high-context ASL (and English) 


Consider the sentence:
English: "I'm looking for an apartment that costs less than $800 a month."
ASL: "IX-[I/me] SEARCH fs-APT MONTHLY less-THAN 800 DOLLAR.

QUESTION:
 A student writes:  "In US English, it would be common to say 'I'm looking for an apartment that's less than 800 a month' - omitting the monetary units unless you were talking about something other than US dollars.  Outside of a classroom setting, would this omission also be common in ASL?"

ANSWER:
Let's first put forth the idea that in U.S. English while it would be "common" to say "...less than 800 a month" -- it would not be exclusively "right." Meaning? In U.S. English both forms will (and do) occur and both forms can be (and are) considered "right." The form that omits "dollars" is both slightly more efficient and slightly more ambiguous. You might hear one version in the courtroom and the other version in the "chatroom." (Actually if we reduce it to U.S. English "texting" I reckon we'd see even more truncation such as "apt" instead of "apartment." So when we refer to what is common in U.S. English we are painting with a rather wide brush.

Even by limiting the sentence to "spoken" U.S. English we run into issues such as:
1. lookin'
vs
2. looking

Your word "setting" (as in "outside of a classroom setting") is the key term.
A "setting" is another way of saying "context."

Classroom settings (or worse: textbooks) tend to default to "let's pretend there is no context here whatsoever so that you (dear student) will have to do as much signing as possible while you are here (in the name of practice). Which is why you have legions of beginning level signers introducing themselves as "HI MY NAME A-N-N" instead of just smiling and spelling "A-N-N" as would be appropriate in context.
I think in general "yah" -- in real life in either ASL or English we tend to omit the designator (in this case: dollars) when the context makes it efficient to do so.

Higher context = fewer signs
Lower context = more signs

This same idea (or principle) applies to the concept of "o'clock" (in both languages). If the other signer asks you what time is the party -- you are more inclined to respond "seven" (or just sign SEVEN) and you less inclined to respond "seven
o'clock" (or sign TIME-7) because it would be a waste of time (heh) and effort to add the "o'clock" or move the dominant hand to the non-dominant wrist (because context has made it obvious that you are discussing time not money).

Suppose though that the context becomes someone has just asked you:
"Your new apartment? What can you afford and how far are you willing to drive?"

To such a question you might be more inclined to disambiguate (or make things more clear) by including the "dollars" label and the "miles" label.  For example: "Less than 800 dollars a month and fewer than 200 miles."

Suppose someone signed: "I CAN PAY 800" [in the context of apartment hunting] -- there would be no need to sign DOLLARS.

We can of course take this to an extreme. Suppose someone creates a very high context situation by asking:
"Can you afford $800 a month for an apartment?"

You could respond without saying or "signing" (with your hands) anything -- rather you can just use the non-manual signal: nodding of the head.



 

Notes:
 




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