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American Sign Language: Grammar (14)

Grammar links:  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 15  Also see: Inflection

Trenton asks: So right now I am trying to learn adjective placement so feed back would be lovely. Suppose I wanted to sign "I painted my car red yesterday." Would I sign is *yesterday car red I finish-paint?"

Paul replies: It probably depends on the context. If you were standing in front of multiple cars, you could use it your way. It seems to me like you are saying "yesterday I painted the red car," but that doesn't tell anyone whether you just touched up the paint, or if you painted it a new color, or what that new color was. I'd use "yesterday car I finish paint red"
More likely, I would say "yesterday I finish paint my car" and then add "change color red" or "color red now," but my grammar is just the worst, and I have very lenient Deaf friends when it comes to those things. I'd not use that for an ASL class.

Trenton:  So what I'm getting is the adjective could really be moved around the sentence depending on how you really want it to mean

Maggie Bee writes: You can sign active or passive, so you can move the adjective and verb, you are correct to start with the time. Without context, I would probably sign this as 'yesterday my car I painted red."   I would only mention that I finished yesterday if painting the car was an ongoing project that took me more than a day. If so, I would sign it as 'yesterday my car paint red i finish'

Bill Vicars writes: Paul and Maggie, your comments are great! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
A couple more thoughts regarding how to sign "I painted my car red yesterday."

Since the sign YESTERDAY is used to establish the tense of the sentence we don't need the sign FINISH as a tense marker.

In the above example we are using "I/ME" as the topic of the sentence and "paint my car red" as the comment.
This "TIME/TOPIC/COMMENT" structure is being produced as: T/S/V/O/Adj: TIME/SUBJECT/VERB/OBJECT/ADJECTIVE.

If you and I had previously discussed my car I could topicalize the sentence by signing:
MY CAR?! [Whereupon you (my conversation partner) would show a facial expression that indicated knowing the car to which I"m referring. I would then continue my statement.] YESTERDAY, I PAINT RED.
If you and I were friends and I had talked multiple times about painting my old car red but had never gotten around to it the sentence would probably go like this:


Thus "FINISH" is being used as an "aspect" marker for emphasis -- and comes at the end of the sentence. (This approach is explained in the text: "Linguistics of American Sign Language" (Vali, Lucas, and others).

Again, I very much like Paul and Maggie's answers and how Maggie's pointed out that if the project had been an "ongoing" one it would influence our choice to include the sign FINISH (or not) and if so it would be at the end. I like how Paul pointed out that we would only put "RED" next to the sign CAR if we were in a circumstance such as trying to identify a red car.
- Dr. Bill



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