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American Sign Language: "snack"

Dear Dr. Bill,
My name is Helen. I've been teaching myself sign language at home from your website for the benefit of my babies. Already my 15 month old daughter knows quite a few signs. :-)
 We are hearing people but the signs help my kids communicate before they can even speak.
So there are a few words that come up often but i didn't find the signs for them on your website. These words are SNACK and DESSERT. I was wondering if you could send me a description of how to sign these if there is a particular sign.
Thank you for helping us learn,
Sincerely ,


Dear Helen,

Hello :)
There is not a common sign in ASL that is directly equivalent to the English word "snack."  The word "snack" means something to the effect of, "a small mount of food to tide you over until the next meal." In ASL we convey the concept of SNACK by using the sign for EAT and/or combining EAT with the sign small or "little-bit." 


It is possible to convey the concept of a snack with just one sign by doing the sign for EAT while doing the facial expression and body language associated with the sign SMALL, (the cheek muscles flexed slightly, the head jutted a bit forward, the shoulders hunched a bit, the upper arms pressing inward on the ribs, etc.).

If for "whatever" reason a person wanted to specifically make sure that the word "snack" came to the mind of the conversation partner then you would fingerspell SNACK. You may see some people partially mouth the word "snack" (which is a result of language contact and the influence of interaction between the Hearing and Deaf culture).

My wife, Belinda was walking past and I asked her how she signed snack.  She did one of the variations of the sign for "PICNIC."  I thought to myself, "Oh, that's pretty cool, I can see that." I asked Belinda, "Where did you get that?" She replied that she had seen it used by a Deaf colleague at work. 

I don't think I would go so far as to "advocate" using (a version of) the sign for PICNIC as the sign for SNACK, but I am totally okay using it or seeing it used. Eventually I'll post that sign on my "picnic page."

-- Dr. Bill

See: EAT
Also see: DESSERT
Also see: PICNIC


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