express the concept of "or" by shifting my body from one side to
the other. I call this a bodyshift." You don't go back and forth, you just
shift one time while using a facial expression that expresses the concept
This "bodyshift" movement is a "nonmanual
marker" (it expresses a meaning, but it doesn't require "hands").
Suppose you were asking me,
"YOU WANT PIZZA OR HAMBURGER, WHICH?"
Instead of signing one of the versions of "or" shown below, you
could instead just use a "bodyshift." You'd sign, "YOU
WANT" in the normal position, then as you signed PIZZA, you'd sort of
lean a bit to your right, then when you signed "HAMBURGER" you'd lean
a bit to your left. This is ASL at its finest! If the person you
are signing to is awake, you shouldn't even need to sign "WHICH" at the
end of the sentence, but it doesn't hurt to add "which" if you want to convey
that the person has to "choose one or the other."
Sample sentence: Do you prefer pizza or burgers?
Another common way to sign "OR" is to sign the letters
"Or" is a short little word, so it is very quick and easy to just spell it.
Quite a few people use the sign for "then" to mean "or." It has to do
with the idea of presenting choices. Imagine someone saying "this or that"
as they first touch their thumb, and then their index finger.
THEN = "or"
There is an initialized version of the sign "then" that means "or."
Most adult native Deaf consider the initialized version to be Signed English,
and prefer to instead use the sign for "then," bodyshift, or fingerspell
This version is "not recommended" if you are taking an ASL test.
A student asks:
If I wanted to ask if someone preferred hamburger, hot dog, or sandwich - do
you shift left, right and back left?
Or would it be left, right, and further right?
Languages move toward efficiency. Languages also tend to have more than one
way to accomplish any particular communicative goal. When any particular
grammar structure requires more work than some other grammar structure
languages users will tend to adopt the easier grammar structure.
When asking someone if they prefer one of three items such as a hamburger, a
hot-dog, or a sandwich you could start with a slight shift to your
non-dominant side to introduce the first item, then a slight shift to your
dominant side to introduce the second item, then a return to the center to
introduce the last item.
However that isn't the only answer here. To state authoritatively that you
have to start by shifting to your non-dominant side instead of your dominant
side is ridiculous. If you put something like that in a textbook or online
post -- the next thing you know is teachers start teaching it as a rule and
second-language educated-idiots start telling Deaf people that we are
signing wrong when we start by shifting to the dominant side (because you
read something or your ASL teacher told you something).
So let's knock any "rigid thinking" crap off right now and keep in mind that
there are multiple right grammar structures and sign orders.
It would be just as fine to start with a slight shift to your dominant side
to introduce the first item, then a slight shift to your non-dominant side
to introduce the second item, then a return to the center to introduce the
Or you could start with a slight shift to your non-dominant side to
introduce the first item, then straight ahead to introduce the second item,
followed by a slight shift to your dominant side to introduce the third
But wait! There's more!
You could bag the shifting altogether and just sign YOU PREFER HAMBURGER,
HOTDOG, SANDWICH, WHICH?* -- while staring at your lunchmate with a smirk
because you just know that he/she/they are going to choose the hotdog even
though it is a rookie mistake since your hamburgers are world class.
(*Plus of course, the sign WHICH would be marked by squinted eyebrows since
it is a "WH"-type question).
You might even choose to list index the three items on your non-dominant
hand because, well, your conversation partner isn't very bright and needs
help keeping track of choices. Or maybe they are just fussy and you know
they are going to ask about condiments, cooking methods, and bread choices
so you are going to have to keep referring back to your list.
Just watch, next you'll be asking:
"How do you sign, ‘Here, eat this or starve, I don't care!"
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