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dactylaprothymia: fingerspelling reluctance

William G. Vicars, EdD 03/12/2021
Lifeprint Library, ASL University, Lifeprint.com



Question: A student writes:

Hello Dr. Bill!

I'm practicing religiously every day with your videos, and I love your course, I'm learning so much!

I have a question, maybe it is a dumb one, or maybe you explained it already, but as a hearing person, I'm very curious about what you say at 13:20 [of the video “Lesson 22 American Sign Language (ASL) (Dr. Bill) (Taylor) (review)”], about the fact that Taylor prefers to sign "busy" rather than to fingerspell it because she is Hearing: could you explain this thing? I have no contact whatsoever with the Deaf community – I am Italian living in Germany learning ASL without knowing any Deaf person :D – so in my ignorance I thought that Deaf people would prefer signs over fingerspelling, because since a sign is not connected to the written/spoken English, but to the visual interpretation of the word, it would have been their first choice! But obviously I'm wrong, and I would love to understand why! Thank you so much for your incredible work!

(Name removed to protect the student's privacy.)
[Note: The video to which the student is referring is located at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PM7knvFzUM&t=13m20s ]

Response:

I'm glad you are asking because it is important to not take one little highly-specific example and build an incorrect thesis out of it.

Of course we culturally Deaf signers cherish "signs" and the use of signs. We are also totally fine with fingerspelling when it is advantageous to do so.

The issue here is that many Hearing beginning-level signers are reluctant to fingerspell since they have not yet invested the time and effort to become skilled at fingerspelling the way that Deaf people fingerspell things.

Here’s an analogy for you:

Hearing fingerspelling is to block printing of letters as Deaf fingerspelling is to cursive writing

Or in other words the fingerspelling of people who have NOT spent a lifetime doing it -- is slow, cumbersome, and laborious. So they tend to want to avoid doing it.

The fingerspelling of people who have spent a lifetime fingerspelling is quick and streamlined. So we don't mind doing it.  Spelling is often faster than doing the sign for a concept.

To an unskilled signer, fingerspelling a word is done by forming their hand into a series of separate signs. 

To a skilled signer, fingerspelling a word is done via a blending and morphing process.

Unskilled signers naively believe that there are 26 handshapes in the manual alphabet.  The clever beginners believe there are 22 handshapes  (G = Q, H = U, I=J, K=P).

Skilled signers know there there is no well-defined upper limit to the number of different handshapes that show up during fingerspelling.

 

Unskilled fingerspellers think that it is important to spell accurately as if they are in a spelling bee competition.

Skilled fingerspellers know that the point is communication and that accurate spelling is usually unimportant to the overall message.

Unskilled fingerspellers think they have to slap their hand or make a show of penance when they screw up the spelling of a word.

Skilled fingerspellers just move on and occasionally just flutter their fingers from the middle point of the word onward.

 

Unskilled fingerspellers watch their hand to see if they are spelling something right.

Skilled fingerspellers watch their conversation partners face to see if they understand the word by halfway through the word and if so it is time to move on.

 

Unskilled fingerspellers will continue to carefully spell out the same word again and again throughout the same conversation.

Skilled fingerspellers will lexicalize (condense, truncate, streamline) the same word more and more each time it shows up in the same conversation -- until it is barely recognizable.


Unskilled signers naively believe the advice from their ASL 1 teacher that it is "clarity" that really matters when fingerspelling -- it's okay to be slow as long as you are clear.

Skilled signers know that it is communication that matters and that what you need is to be clear enough to get your message across -- anything else is wasting your conversation partner's time. 

Unskilled fingerspellers act like spelling a word all the way to the end should get them sort of sticker or reward.

Skilled fingerspellers watch their signing partner and know that the moment their signing partner has understood the word being spelled (even if it is in the middle of the word) it is time to move on.  There is no prize for making it to the end of a word -- it just annoys the other person who is watching you get your finger exercise.

Unskilled signers think that streamlined cursive-like fingerspelling is sloppy.

Skilled signers know that streamlined, cursive-like fingerspelling is reflective of the type of fingerspelling done by native signers.

 

 



Question:  An ASL learner writes:
Is it not the case that there are skilled Deaf signers who prefer to avoid fingerspelling (except for names) because they feel that fingerspelling represents an intrusion of English into ASL that affords an “easy way out” to avoid really learning the language?

Response:

Based on a 2003 review of 5,400 lexical items collected from 36 signers, Carol Padden and Darline Gunsauls proposed that between 10 and 35 percent of ASL discourse consists of fingerspelling.
Source: Padden, C. A., and D. C. Gunsauls, 2003. How the Alphabet Came to Be Used in a Sign Language. Sign Language Studies 41: 10–33.

Even at the smaller percentage -- that's an awful lot of "names."

In a different study, using a database of 4,111 signs from a fairly wide and diverse selection of ASL discourse, Jill P. Morford and James MacFarlane came up with a statistic indicating that of 6.4 percent of ASL discourse consisted of fingerspelling.
Source: Morford, J., and J. MacFarlane. 2003. Frequency Characteristics of American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies 32: 213–25.

Thus statistically, fingerspelling of certain concepts is often faster, easier, less ambiguous -- or in some other way advantageous at least 6.4 percent of the time and (according to a prominent ASL researcher -- Padden) often more frequently than that.

I'm not suggesting nor encouraging the fingerspelling of concepts as a replacement for learning the commonly accepted sign for the target concept. Rather I'm suggesting the opposite:

Beginning-level signers (who are typically but not always Hearing people) for a variety of reasons -- some of which I listed in the original post) are often reluctant to fingerspell those 6.4 percent or more of words which are commonly fingerspelled by the majority of adult, socially active, native Deaf skilled signers.
 


Additional Notes:

Research statistics regarding the frequency of fingerspelling in ASL varies widely but researchers have found that fingerspelling constitutes from 6.4% (Morford & MacFarlane, 2003) to as high as 35% (Padden & Gunsauls) of ASL discourse.

If you are discussing people, things, and places you will likely use more fingerspelling.

If you are describing actions and happenings you will likely use less fingerspelling.

In general though it is safe to say that fingerspelling is fairly common in American Sign Language.

References and notes:
Based on a 2003 review of 5,400 lexical items collected from 36 signers, Carol Padden and Darline Gunsauls proposed that between 10 and 35 percent of ASL discourse consists of fingerspelling.
Source: Padden, C. A., and D. C. Gunsauls, 2003. How the Alphabet Came to Be Used in a Sign Language. Sign Language Studies 41: 10–33.

In 2003 using a a database of 4,111 signs Jill P. Morford and James MacFarlane found that 6.4 percent of ASL discourse consisted of fingerspelling.
Source: Morford, J., and J. MacFarlane. 2003. Frequency Characteristics of American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies 32: 213–25.

 



 

Notes: 

 

See: Lesson 22 American Sign Language (ASL) (Dr. Bill) (Taylor) (review)
Time code: 13:20
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PM7knvFzUM&t=13m20s

 

 

See:   DACTYLOLOGY
dactylology: The art of communicating ideas by certain movements and positions of the fingers.
(Source: http://www.etymology-dictionary.com/dactylology retrieved 12/3/2021)
 



Question:  An ASL learner writes:
I am unable to find "dactylprothymía" online, with or without the accented i.
Do you have a source for this term?
 

Answer
Yes, the source is:

Reference:
Vicars, W. (2021, March 12). Dactylaprothymia Fingerspelling reluctance. Retrieved March 14, 2021, from https://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/topics/dactylaprothymia.htm

Or in other words:  I coined the word dactylaprothymia

I coined it from the roots:
dactyl
&
aprothymía

I've known the first part of word (dactyl) for quite a while but here's a source for you:
The Greek root of dactyl is δάχτυλο or "daktylos," which means "unit of measure" -- and it also means "finger." (Source: Google Translate plus "Vocabulary dot com")

The aprothymía part I reverse looked up from Google Translate.

aprothymia or more accurately: aprothymía (with an accented "í") = reluctance, disinclination, or unwillingness
(Source: translate dot google dot com (expanded))
 

Note:
dactylprothymia = willingness to fingerspell
dactylaprothymia = unwillingness to fingerspell or resistance to fingerspelling
(The letter "a" in the middle of the word here changes the "willing" into "unwilling.")

 

 




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