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American Sign Language: "sign / signing / sign language"

Form both hands into "1" hand shapes.  Then draw a couple of large circles in the air with the tip of each index finger.  The movement for each hand is: up, back, down, forward, and so on in an alternating circular movement. As if pedaling a bicycle backwards.  Both hands move at the same time. When the right hand is up, the left hand is down.  When the right hand is forward, the left hand is back. 

SIGN-[a sign, signing-(basic), sign language-(general)]

SIGNING-[advanced-signing, ASL-type-signing, skilled signing]

SIGN-[sign-something-in-fluent-ASL, do-a-sign, sign-language]


Animation: "Sign Language" (.gif file)


A lot of people also do the sign with a forward, down, back, up movement -- as if pedaling a bicycle forwards.)

The sign for "sign" as in "a roadway sign" or a billboard is different from "sign" as in "American Sign Language."

If you want to talk about a road sign, bilboard, blackboard, or square, see: SQUARE

Optional Reading (Not required)

Student: For "SIGN," should the fingers be moving in towards the body at the top of the circle, or at the bottom of the circle?

Dr. Bill: Would you believe "either?"  It is done both ways in the Deaf Community.  I do it with the fingers moving in toward the body at the top of the circle. But lots of people do it the other way too. Out of curiosity, I just looked in a couple of the ASL dictionaries I have sitting here on my shelf and sure enough one shows the fingers moving back, the other shows them moving forward. 


In a message dated 10/25/2005 4:24:51 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, january_june@___com writes:

I can't seem to have one hand circling in two different directions. My question is, is this a common mistake? Also, does it mean something completely different? In other words, if I signed 'sign' with my fingers both making circles in the same direction, would I end up offending someone or telling them I'm pregnant? Clumsy mistakes are no fun :P


Your hands do not go in two different directions.  They are go in the same direction.  Think of two race cars on the same track.  One car is half a lap in front of the other.  They are going the same circular direction.  Compare this situation to the hands on an analog clock.  Suppose it were 2:45 p.m., the clock would look like this:
The long-hand would have an upward movement while the short-hand would have a downward movement. From that description it sounds like they are moving in different directions.  (One up, one down.)  But when viewed from the larger perspective, they are moving in the same direction:  clockwise.  The same is true of the movement of your hands in this sign.  They both go in the same rotational direction but they are on opposite sides of the circle.

- Dr. Bill

In a message dated 7/7/2007 4:47:33 A.M. Mountain Daylight Time, lwilt@ writes:

Hi, Dr. Bill,
I haven't asked you a question in a long time, but have one now...What is the difference (in usage) between the sign for sign: as in sign language
- one is the index fingers going around each other
- and the other is "s" hands throwing forward into relaxed "c" or "5" hands?
Thanks, Bill, hope all is well with you!
Linda Wilt
Easton, Md

Hi Linda,
The "index finger version means "signing in general."
The "S" hand version refers to the "skilled use of ASL" (not "contact signing" nor Signed English").
Both signs can be further modified (by changes in movement, path, speed, orientation, facial expression, and posture) to indicate signing of various styles and skill levels.
-- Dr. Bill


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