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American Sign Language: "unicorn"

The sign for unicorn places an "R" handshape on the forehead and moves it upward and forward as if representing the horn of a unicorn.




The sign for "unicorn" is not widely known or used.  When surveyed, most interviewees did not know of a specific sign for unicorn.  For most the first reaction was to just spell it.  Some interviewees would put an index finger on their head and move it forward and upward a bit and then immediately backtrack and comment that "Nah, that is too similar to the sign for 'horny,' better to spell it."

When shown the "R"- handshape version of the horn many commented that "Oh I see! Yah. That's better. That makes sense!"
Many adults and/or non-artists forget or do not realize that unicorn horns are traditionally spirals and are typically not just smooth cones.  In American sign language the "R" - handshape represents a class of objects that are twisted and long (rope, cigars, hair braids, etc.).   When used to represent such classes of objects the "R"-handshape is considered a "classifier." Sometimes this is written as "CL:R" along with a note describing what the "R" is representing.

Sample questions regarding unicorns:

English: "Are you familiar with unicorns? Horses with a single horn sticking out of their forehead. Do you think that unicorns are real?"

 (video in "Flash" format)

Gloss:  UNICORN YOU KNOW, HORSE HAVE CL:CS:_"cylindrical protrusion from the forehead, CL:1_"long straight thing starting at the forehead and going forward and upward,"  CALLED UNICORN YOU THINK TRUE-"real" QM-wig?

CL:CS means a classifier that uses the handshapes "C" and "S."

CL:1 means a classifier that uses the "1" handshape.

QM-wig: Means "question mark wiggle" and is done by bending, straightening, and bending the index finger as if representing multiple question marks.

YOU KNOW:  The ASL phrase "YOU KNOW" when done with raised eyebrows can mean "are you familiar with" and is similar in meaning to the English phrase "have you heard of...?"

* Even though some people will be all too glad to point out to you that the use of a "1" on the forehead means "horny" as in the slang term meaning "sexually excited" I think it is important to point out that just because there is a similarity between "horny" and "a horn protruding from the forehead" doesn't mean that that are the same.  For example, the English words "sex" and "sects" are pronounced very similarly but there is a small difference in the pronunciation and generally a huge difference in the context provided by the rest of the sentence. Thus I'm not going to prescribe that you stop using the word "sects" just as I'm not going to promote the juvenile idea that CL:1_"long straight thing starting at the forehead and going forward and upward" means "horny." It doesn't. The movement is different. The context is different. They are two different signs.  In any case using an "R" hand to show the horn is a very simple solution.


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ASL resources by    Dr. William Vicars

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