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ASL Grammar (18)

Knowing what "not" to sign.

Grammar links:  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 1516 | 17 | 18 
Also see: Inflection

Are both acceptable?

Both versions are acceptable. Think of the whole sentence as being:
YOU STUDENT (are)-YOU? = "Are you a student?"
[The "are you" is created by raising the brows while signing YOU]
By "whole" sentence what we really mean is: The type of sentence you would use if there were little or no context.

The two versions (STUDENT YOU? and YOU STUDENT?) are just shorter ways of signing the longer version. Since ASL "question"-type facial punctuation (the raising or lowering of eyebrows) tends to come at the end of a sentence, the version "STUDENT YOU?" could be thought of as being "STUDENT are-YOU?" with the eyebrows raised on the sign "YOU." If you sign "YOU STUDENT?" -- the tendency would be to raise the eyebrows on both signs -- thus requiring a micro-bit of extra effort.

In situations with enough context you could shorten "STUDENT YOU?" even further to just: "STUDENT?" This would be done by looking at the person and signing STUDENT with your eyebrows up. This shorter version would likely succeed if the person were in line to an event hosting both students and non-students. The person would (probably) understand that you are asking them if they are a student. There would be no need to ask the longer version "YOU STUDENT YOU?"

There are various "right" ways to sign ASL in the same way that there are various "right" ways to speak English. For example, suppose you were to go to a Hearing event and the person at the registration table looked at you and said the word "student" in a questioning tone of voice. You (if you are Hearing and speak English) would understand that they are asking you if you are a student. They didn't have to say "Are you a student?" They were able to shorten the sentence to "one word" due to the situation.

The "right" grammar for any particular sentence often depends on context.

Typically the higher the context -- the lower the number of signs needed for successful communication.

The lower the context -- the higher the number of signs needed for successful communication.

Now, here is an important point:

If you go into the Deaf community and start using "low context sentence versions" in "high context situations" your signing will be less appropriate than it could be if you were to instead match your signing choices to the existing level of context.

Does that mean you are signing wrong?

Yes and no.

Your signs may be technically accurate but the amount of signs you are using may be wrong for the situation.

If your signing requires excessive time and effort to watch either due to your signing speed being slow or due to you using more signs than called for by the situation -- Deaf people will tend to gravitate away from you and toward signers who are fluent and use the right amount of signs based on the circumstance.

Learning from (most) books and frozen curricula (frozen here meaning unresponsive / non-interactive non-adaptive) is not enough to become a skilled communicator.

You may become a skilled signer but still lack real-world communication skills due to not having had a sufficient number of in-person (or video-conference) context-filled conversations with real-time feedback (on the face of your conversation partner or audience) informing (teaching) you just how little you can sign while still getting your message across.

Effectively communicating in ASL is not just about knowing a bunch of signs -- you also need to become skilled at not signing more than what is necessary.  You need to be able to "assess context."   That means you need to learn to "read" the environment in which the conversation is taking place, decide what information is already known or obvious -- and then choose your signs accordingly. 

You can't make the "What should or shouldn't I sign?" decision until you are actually chatting with someone and are aware of the context and how much that person already knows about the topic.  You have to "be" there.

How do you become skilled at using the right amount of signs?

Either you grow up in a signing environment (surrounded by skilled signers) or you purposefully seek out and choose to engage in hundreds (even thousands) of signed conversations (with skilled signers) covering a wide variety of topics.

There is no shortcut.
- Dr. Bill :) 


There is a difference between a shortcut and concentrated effort.  You can expedite or accelerate the learning of ASL by having more conversations, more often.  If you have ten ASL conversations a day you will certainly learn ASL faster than someone who is only having "one" ASL conversation a day.  This is not a shortcut this is simply doing ten times the work in the same span of time.


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