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American Sign Language Linguistics:  "rhetorical questions"

Rhetorical Questions

 

A "rhetorical question" is a question that you ask for the purpose of keeping your audience awake.  (Okay, so that isn't a dictionary definition, but trust me, that is what rhetorical questions are used for.)

A normal "wh-question" is: "How are we going to do it?" 
A normal "yes/no question" is: "Do you want to know how we are going to do it?"
A rhetorical question is: "We are going to do it. How? By working together."

Now look at what we really mean with that rhetorical "how": 
"We are going to do it. (Do you want to know) how? By working together."

The sentence, "Do you want to know how?" is generally answered with a "yes" or a "no" thus it is considered a "yes/no" question (in ASL) and so we raise our eyebrows when asking it.

Normal "Wh-questions" use "furrowed eyebrows."
Normal "Yes/no questions" use "raised eyebrows."
Rhetorical "Wh-questions" use "raised eyebrows."

A "rhetorical question" in ASL uses the raised eyebrows (non-manual features / facial expressions) of a "yes/no question" because you are not actually asking "how to do something," but rather you are asking your conversation partner if he or she wants to know how to do something.  It is a way of getting him or her to pay attention.

Rhetorical questions in ASL tend to use a with a slight tilt of the head and a raising of the eyebrows in combination with one of the following signs:
WHO, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW, FOR-FOR, REASON, etc.
 



Example of a rhetorical:
English:  She passed her class! How? She paid the teacher.
ASL:  "SHE PASS CLASS,
HOW-(rhetorical)? PAY TEACHER.
(The sign "HOW" in the above sentence would have raised eyebrows and a slight tilt of the head.)

 

If I wanted to sign the sentence, "We have come to school so we can improve ourselves." I would sign, "WE COME HERE, WHY-(rhetorical)?, IMPROVE SELF-(horizontal sweeping motion.)
(The sign "WHY" in the above sentence would have raised eyebrows and a slight tilt of the head.)

 

English sentence: "We couldn't afford to waste the ammo."
ASL sentence: Use the nonmanual marker "carelessly" while using an instrument classifier "GUN" to demonstrate the shooting of a gun carelessly, CAN'T,
WHY-(rhetorical)?, FRUGAL BULLETS.
(The sign "WHY" in the above sentence would have raised eyebrows and a slight tilt of the head.)

 

English sentence: "We are doing to do this by buying five houses a year."
ASL sentence: "WE ACHIEVE
HOW-(rhetorical)? BUY 5 HOUSE every-YEAR"
(The sign "HOW" in the above sentence would have raised eyebrows and a slight tilt of the head.)
Here we see that the concept of "by" can sometimes be expressed through the use of a rhetorical question: "HOW?" = "by."
 


Sample quiz questions:
 

1.  What type of sentence is it when you use a sign like WHEN, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, FOR-FOR, and REASON with raised eyebrows, and may also use a slight shake or tilt of the head?

  • a. "whq" or a "Wh"-question
  • b.  "q" or a "YES/NO" question
  • c.  "rhq" or a rhetorical question (* right answer)
  • d. "if" - a conditional sentence

2.  What is the nonmanual marker for a rhetorical question?
Answer:  Raised eyebrows, and may also use a slight shake or tilt of the head

3.  What is the symbol for glossing of a rhetorical question?
Answer: The gloss for a rhetorical question is: * “rhet”

4.  Raised eyebrows, a slight shake or tilt of the head paired with one of these signs: WHEN, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, FOR-FOR, and REASON is probably what type of question?
Answer: A rhetorical question

 

 


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