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American Sign Language:  "single"

SINGLE (version)
Note: This version of "SINGLE" also means: "something / someone / alone / only."  It is a very flexible sign and you must rely on context to understand the meaning.
This sign
is made by holding the right arm in front of you, palm up. 
Your right index finger makes circular motions about the size of a quarter. The movement is in your shoulder and elbow, not in your wrist. 


SINGLE ("not married" version)
Another way to sign "single" as in:  "I'm not married."


SINGLE ("only, only one, just..." version)


SINGLE ("initialized" version)

Variation of SINGLE as in "not married."
This is an "initialized sign."  Some people say it isn't ASL. See optional discussion below for more info.

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A discussion regarding the initialized version of the sign for SINGLE:

A teacher of the Deaf writes:

<<OH....single...with an "s" and not the first finger on each side of the mouth?   I see....that was a very English-type sign. I'm surprised you signed it that way. Hmm. Interesting. Is that how everyone is signing it now in ASL? Should I change that? I don't want to be left out of the loop. :)
Smile!! I showed my (Deaf) kids your signs and they thought it was so neat to be able to pull that up on the web. They also thought it was neat that I knew you. My kids are 6-8th grade and vary in ability levels from 1st-5th grade in reading levels. They all enjoy being able to see adult signers. I enjoyed being able to pull up your site in class. Thanks for the info!! Hope all is going well. 
- Michelle (name on file)
Deaf Ed Teacher>>

Dear Michelle,

(Please know that I think the world of you and that any defensive tone in this letter is just my natural inclination to examine ANYTHING from both sides. Such being the case, I'm not responding to you but rather to the people that think "one way is the right way" -- which, strangely enough, usually happens to be their way. )

Now, ...on with the discussion...

If a person were to have gone through the Lifeprint / ASLU lessons starting with lesson 1 and working forward, they would get to lesson two which contained the vocabulary word "single." Then they'd go to the "single" page, and see the variations.

Please DO go to the page so you can see what I'm talking about: [note this link may change over time, if so visit the dictionary and click on "single."]

It make take a while to load because of the many graphics, but you will notice that I show the "index" finger version of the sign "single" as well as the "initialized" version.

 You asked if that is how "everyone is signing it in ASL now?" 

I've yet to see "everyone" sign "anything" exactly the same. 

I sometimes include the lesser known variations of signs on the quizzes to make sure my students are thoroughly familiar with a wide range of sign choices. It is an arguable fact that SOME culturally Deaf signers do sign "single" with an "S" and I expect my online students to learn that variation as well as the other variations.

You said that the "S" version of "single" is an "English-type" sign.

My response is: So then, does that mean that the signs Aunt and Uncle are "English type" signs? Just because a sign has an initialized handshape doesn't automatically make it "Signed English."

There are many, many legitimate, widely used ASL signs that are initialized. Here are a few for example: Congress, yellow, workshop, Monday, rocket, rope, ready, semester, nurse, project, patient/hospital, law, governor, elevator...and my favorite: "family." 

No one in their right mind, (but some in a wrong mind) would be willing to dispute that "family" is a bona fide ASL sign used by hundreds of thousands of culturally Deaf, native ASL signers on a regular basis.

But, since initialization is such an easy target to bash, many purists like to wield their clubs with glee. 

ASL is a living language though, and as such is constantly changing and incorporating new lexicon (vocabulary).

Now, back to the "single" sign -- I encourage you to get a copy of the following book:

Costello, E., & Lenderman, L. (1994). Random House American sign language dictionary (1st ed ed.). New York: Random House. 

You will notice that Elaine lists the side to side mini-sweeping motion version of single as her main version. She lists the initialized version as an "alternate sign." And she doesn't even mention the "index finger to the sides of the mouth" version. (Which I DO mention on my page).

Does her listing of the initialized version of single in her dictionary "prove" that it is ASL?

I reckon that depends on if you respect Elaine and take her word for it.

A man or woman convinced against his or her will, is a disbeliever still.

I could even jump on the other side of the fence and point out that the sign SINGLE has a non-initialized version that works well, (the index finger to the sides of the mouth) but the sign AUNT doesn't have a non-initialized version, therefore "SINGLE"-(initialized) is not as legitimate of an ASL sign as is AUNT. But then again, I could sign, "MY DAD, HIS SISTER" to mean AUNT.

Obviously, initialized signs for words like "I" and "WE" are not necessary in ASL. (Unless, perhaps, if you were using ASL to discuss English.)

Suffice to say, if you'll take the time to read the prefatory material in the front of her book, Elaine--in addition to her own lifetime worth of expertise gained from interacting with thousands of Deaf people--employed the knowledge and expertise of over 80 "sign informants," (most of whom are Deaf) to ensure the appropriateness of the content of her dictionary. 

So, if one or two, (or 10 or 20) people choose to debate the issue, I suggest they go debate it with Dr. Costello and her team of 80 sign informants and whatever other "experts" out there that have included it in their dictionaries.

As for me, I'll keep including it, and many other (but certainly not all) variations of signs in my curriculum. 

Your friend,
- Bill

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All material copyright 1996 by Dr. William Vicars