ASL University: "referring / indexing / contrasting multiple or plural items"
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[How do you talk about more than one thing in ASL?]
A student named Michelle writes:
I have a quick question. When referring to more than one subject/item when signing do we shift sides? For example, "HAIR, LONG-HAIR, SHORT-HAIR, WHICH YOU THINK PRETTY?" Would we sign 'long hair' on one side and then sign 'short hair' on the other?
If so, or if it does not apply to this, what side do we start from when referring to several topics, left or right (I am right handed)?
In the example video I signed "long-HAIR" with my right hand and then short-HAIR with both hands.
I did a very slight (almost unnoticeable if you aren't looking for it) shift to my left at the beginning of the comparison (when I signed long-HAIR) and then shifted my upper-body back to center (and a little right) for the second item in the comparison (short-HAIR). I looked at a different video of me signing that sentence and I didn't use any contrastive body shift -- I just did a bit of "head nod" for "topicalization" of the "hair" concept.
So, one way to discuss more than one item is to simply name the items.
"Shifting" our body is one of several ways to help clarify that we are talking about more than one item. Since you only have one "left-side" and one "right-side" body-shifting is well suited for comparing or contrasting (just) two items.
If you need to describe and keep track of three items you can set them up -- one on the left, one in the middle, and one on the right -- and then point to them as needed.
The non-dominant hand (the left hand if you are right handed) can be used to keep track of, discuss, and/or refer back to up to five items very easily simply by holding up the appropriate number of fingers (using the relevant ASL number handshape) and then assigning each discussion item to a finger and then pointing to or tapping that finger as necessary.
The non-dominant hand can actually use that "tap" method on up to "9" items simply by changing the hand into the ASL numbers 6 through 9 as needed.
p.s. (No, I would not sign long-HAIR with my right hand and short-HAIR with just my left-hand to compare the two items. But I might do that type of signing for "other" comparisons such as "team scores" where I would do the score for one team on my right hand and the other team on my left hand.)
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