ASL University

 American Sign Language: "ASL Accents"

Hello. My name is Se'a Prescott and I'm 18 years old, soon to be 19 in October 2015. I have been learning ASL from the lessons provided on lifeprint. I have a question though, as I'm sure you've figured out.

I watched a show recently where the person said how someone signs can indicate where they're from in the US. More specifically, this person indicated that the way the girl was signing showed she was from a rural area. She said, in reference to the girl signing "Don't know":  "Forehead level citation form indicates someone from a rural area." The person also explained that, similar to how hearing people have accents, ASL has dialects. Is this true? If so, how is it possible to determine, by someone's signing that they are from a rural environment? Is it even possible to determine that?

Thank you for your time. I wanted to quickly mention that the show I was watching was a cop show, so what the woman said may not be accurate anyways. I look forward to hearing from you :)

~ Se'a Prescott=


Dear Se'a,
It is certainly true that ASL has dialects and that a person's sign choices often reflect where that person is from.  The "citation version" (the full, standard version) of the sign "DON'T-KNOW" is done at the forehead level.

The everyday, casual version of the sign
"DON'T-KNOW" is commonly done at the cheek (or even lower) level.

"DON'T-KNOW" will typically be signed at the forehead level in the following situations:
1.  A beginning level signer who is learning ASL as a second language.
2.  An ASL teacher who is demonstrating the sign
"DON'T-KNOW" in a very clear and precise manner.

3.  A Deaf person who has limited interaction with skilled ASL signers and learned to sign from a hearing person who learned to sign from a book (or from an ASL teacher who demonstrated the sign "DON'T-KNOW" in a very clear and precise manner).

The statement on the cop show that "forehead-level citation form indicates someone from a rural area" is likely referring to the concept that "rural areas" generally do not have large concentrations of Deaf people.  Rural areas tend to only have "isolated" Deaf people. Such individuals would not regularly be exposed to fast, native-level signing. Rather most of the rural Deaf person's friends would likely be "Hearing" people for whom the rural Deaf person would need to sign very clearly and precisely in order to be understood.

Take care,

- Dr. Bill


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