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The problem of induction and extrapolation in the teaching of ASL:

Inductive reasoning should not replace real world observation when real world examples abound.

Just because your teacher told you something doesn't make it true. Just because a book tells you something doesn't make it true. Woe to the student of a teacher who is prescribing rules that are not reflective of typical / real ASL usage by the vast majority of socially active native Deaf adult ASL signers in conversation with other fluent signers.

There exists an insidious problem in the teaching and learning of ASL based on the viral spread of an overemphasis on teaching a lesser aspect of ASL grammar to at the expense of a more common aspect of ASL grammar.

What is this problem?  An "occasional occurrence" in ASL has been ripped from its role as a supporting actor and given top billing as the star of the show.  Many teachers have promoted topicalization as THE main word order in ASL (when it isn't) and have promoted the idea that "rightward movement of WH questions is critical" (it's not).

Allow me to share the following bit of wisdom by Steven Surrency from his article "Respecting Language: Sign Language Interpreters as Linguistic Descriptivists."

"Formulaic Syntax. Many interpreters, in their zeal to learn and preserve ASL, often develop an unnuanced, formulaic idea of what ASL is. As a result, they apply overly simplistic "rules" about what constitutes "pure" ASL. For instance, such interpreters expect all ASL sentences to use topicalization or right-movement of wh-questions (wh- question words at the ends of sentences). Such an approach reveals an incomplete understanding of the wide range of syntactic variation available in ASL"
[Source: Surrency, S. (Nov.10, 2015) "Respecting Language: Sign Language Interpreters as Linguistic Descriptivists," Street Leverage, retrieved from ]

Bravo! Just bravo!

Oh sure, those of you taking ASL classes from prescriptive instructors (or texts) should do what you need to in order to get the grade you want. Afterward -- go out into the real world (after the pandemic) and see with your own eyes how we communicate with each other.

I encourage you all to read the whole article.
Also see the links in the notes below.
- Dr. Bill



See: "Rightward movement of Wh-questions unnecessary in very short sentences"

See: "Placement of WH-questions"

See: "Sign order in ASL sentences"

See: The myth of "STORE I GO."

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