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

ASL Linguistics: Assimilation

Assimilation is when a sign takes on (assimilates) the handshape, location, movement, or orientation of another sign.

In a message dated 8/6/2002 2:34:45 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Lara writes:

Can you discuss beyond simply a definition about assimilation in ASL?


A good example of a sign that tends to assimilate or "take on the handshape of" other signs is "ME."  If you watch a conversation closely you will notice the "ME" handshape occasionally taking on the handshape of the sign before or after it.  A very typical example is the phrase, "I KNOW"  in which the "I/ME" sign tends to take on a "bent-B" handshape. 

Also, if you watching signing that is fast or very casual you might notice the weak hand assimilating the handshape of the strong hand in certain signs that normally use a different handshape on each hand.  Whereas if the signer were in a more formal situation he or she would do the sign with different handshapes on each hand.

Assimilation can also occur with features of signing other than just handshapes.  What about assimilating the location or movement.  Sometimes, especially if I'm tired or excited, I find myself signing the weirdest combinations like doing "please forget" by rubbing my fingers on my forehead in a circular manner. (That is a made up example.  But it is not far fetched by any means.)  If you notice other examples, please do email them to me.



Guess what!  I am so excited!  I was chatting with some friends the other day and I SAW ASSIMILATION in ACTION!  Before I had trouble totally grasping the concept but on this day it was different.  I was just
sitting there watching Linda talk and I saw it! Immediately I recognized it AS assimilation.  Very
cool.  I own that knowledge now, ya know? 

But in the trueness of who I am, I have another question. :)  Can you help me understand metathesis??
Also, I know what a phoneme is in a oral language but not in ASL.  Can you help?

Thanks!  Thanks!   Thanks!

Sure.  :)  See:
●  Metathesis
●  Phonemes


Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is now available!   GET IT HERE!  

NEW!  Online "ASL Training Center!"  (Premium Subscription Version of ASLU)  ** CHECK IT OUT **

Also available: "" (a mirror of less traffic, fast access)  ** VISIT NOW **

Want to help support Lifeprint / ASLU?  It's easy!     

You can learn sign language online at American Sign Language University
hosted by Dr. William Vicars