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American Sign Language:  "what" (Advanced Discussion)

Also see:  sign: WHAT / "HUH?"  /  sign: "WHAT?" (main)  /  sign: "WHAT-KIND?"

In a message dated 11/1/2005 7:51:37 AM Pacific Standard Time, writes:

Dr. Bill:
Hi, quick question for you. If I want to say the word "what" in a non- question form, how do I sign that. I know a lot of the time we'll just skip the word what (when it's in a non-question form), but if we don't how would we say it. For example, "That is WHAT I ment." Or "Let me tell you/show you WHAT is bothering me (or, let me tell you WHAT bothering me).
Thank you,

In ASL the concept of "what" can (and usually should) be expressed in ways other than by using a specific sign.
In the sentence "That is what I meant." You would sign, "THAT! I MEANING." The sign THAT would be emphasized by using a bigger, slightly faster movement. Or you might just sign, "MY POINT!" (The right index finger would point at the left upright index finger.)  Thus you didn't use a specific sign for "what" but you didn't need one either.

In the sentence "Let me tell you what is bothering me" you would sign, "SOMETHING BOTHER ME, YOU-MIND I TELL-you ?" The variation of the "SOMETHING" sign I'm referring to can also mean "someone or single."

I strongly advise you to not seek out or begin using a specific sign for "WHAT" for statements. Rather, you should seek to figure out the underlying concepts and use appropriate ASL equivalents.

Now, there is a form of "what" that you might not have learned yet that is very good to know, and that is the variation used for "exclamations." This is the lexicalized (mutated fingerspelling that sort of looks like a sign) version: #WHAT, which starts as a "W" handshape, moves forward and down quickly and ends in a "T" handshape. That version is used when you want to express incredulousness or astonishment.




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Concepts who when

"what" (advanced discussion)






All material copyright 1996 by Dr. William Vicars