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ASL: "pretty good"

ASL: PRETTY-GOOD / fairly good / sort of good:







Topic: "Shared idioms"
Example: The English idiom "pretty good"

Lately I've been thinking about the topic of: "shared idioms" and concept that:
"Two languages can share one or more idioms."

Languages borrow from other languages.

We see various English "idioms" popping up in American Sign Language (ASL).

Some teachers or other ASL signers label such language usage as an "error" -- but I think there is often more to it than that. I think that sometimes the process of "language borrowing" starts with an error or a misuse of a sign that sometimes spreads. If the misuse continues to spread it may come to be considered as "common." If something enters the realm of "common use" it is then considered "acceptable."

For example we occasionally see the signs "PRETTY" and "GOOD" used to mean "sort of good" or "fairly well." We even see "some" advanced, native signers and ASL teachers using the PRETTY GOOD phrase. (Maybe not when a spotlight is cast on them or when they are feeling scrutinized -- but it does show up on their / our hands rather often).

If such borrowed phrases "stick" and continue to be used and understood it means that two languages can have the same idiom (yet you still have to know the culture and idiosyncrasies of each target language to understand the idiom).

To pursue that line of thinking one has to embrace the idea that "one" of the ways languages expand and/or evolve is through errors catching on and spreading until they become common and thus are no-longer errors but rather they become accepted usage and thus literally the "right way" to say or sign something. 

Regarding: "pretty good" (the English phrase) and "PRETTY-GOOD" (the ASL compound):
We of course have a sign labeled as PRETTY.
And we have a sign labeled as GOOD.
One of the assertions of this thread is that we "do" see "some" Deaf (and other skilled signers) doing the sign PRETTY before signing GOOD to mean "pretty good."
There are, of course a variety of ways to sign the English concept of "pretty good":
1. "pretty good" = GOOD+[mitigating-head-movement]
2. "pretty good" = SORT-of+GOOD
3. "pretty good" = PRETTY+GOOD [idiomatic]
There are those who will say that method three is "wrong."
However, suppose the Deaf Community took a vote and voted that "PRETTY GOOD" was a fine way to sign the concept of "pretty good"?
Well, a form of voting happens every single time a person signs something. Every time we see someone in the Deaf Community do a particular sign -- it is "one" more vote for that sign. At some point there might be so many votes in favor of a particular sign that it becomes "more normal than not." It may reach a tipping point and spread to the extent that we could consider the sign as being "the" sign for a concept.



Below are screen-grabs of Dr. I King Jordan signing "PRETTY-GOOD."
While you can try to argue that he is signing in an "English-like" fashion -- it is important to note here is that Dr. Jordan is Deaf, was the president of a Deaf University, is being interviewed by a Deaf person for a production put out by a Deaf-centered company for a Deaf audience.  Does all of that mean that the compound "PRETTY-GOOD" is right way to sign "pretty good / fairly good / sort of good"? It really doesn't matter what you and I think about the topic of the rightness or wrongness of his signing. It is nearly assured that "every" (or nearly every) fluent ASL signer would recognize and understand what he signed and what he meant.   That is a strong indication that the signs "PRETTY GOOD" are part of ASL (even if the phrase is scorned or ridiculed by people who are elitist or prescriptive in their approach to ASL).

Jordan, I (March 4, 2015) ""Deaf People: Tell Me More" featuring I. King Jordan," Publisher: Sorenson. Web:

Jordan, I (March 4, 2015) ""Deaf People: Tell Me More" featuring I. King Jordan," Publisher: Sorenson. Web:

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