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Mislabeling every initialized sign as Signed English is not productive:

Rookie mistake: Knee jerk labeling every initialized sign as "Signed English."

The "initialized" sign for "SATURDAY" is not "signed English." It is simply how skilled adult Deaf Americans do the sign. It would be silly to think of the sign SUNDAY as being more "ASL" than the sign SATURDAY simply because SATURDAY uses an "S" hand and SUNDAY doesn’t.

It is a fact that we live in a diglossic* society (with two languages used by most Deaf Americans -- who are bilingual to some extent).

* "Diglossia: a situation in which two languages (or two varieties of the same language) are used under different conditions within a community, often by the same speakers. The term is usually applied to languages with distinct “high” and “low” (colloquial) varieties, such as Arabic." (Source: Oxford Dictionary / Lexico)
It is also a fact that many ASL signs do "map to" English counterparts and that the "mapping" largely takes place via the handshape of a borrowed initial and are put to use in mixed language environments for the sake of convenience and clarity.

That is "language mixing" based on bilingual orthographic mapping (not "Signed English"). For example, the fingerspelled letter "A" is indeed closely mapped to the English letter "A" -- but the fingerspelled letter "A" in and of itself is not "Signed English."

The "A" hands version of CHANGE should not be knee jerk lumped in with or labeled as signed English just because it is used to represent a concept that begins with "A" in English.

The concept of "accommodation" as in an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation is rather common in mixed Deaf Community / United States governmental contexts. Spelling out the word "accommodation" is not efficient. Using the "X"-hand version of change to mean "accommodation" is efficacious (successful in producing a desired or intended result; effective) only in high context situations. In all other situations an uninitialized version of "accommodation" (using the X hand version of CHANGE) is ambiguous.

Language "borrowing" (from English or any other language) is not the same as "signed English."

One of the purposes of occasional language borrowing (and mixing) involving initials isn't to represent English on the hands but rather to efficiently (in ASL) represent the concept in low-context circumstances and/or when homonyms are often used elsewhere in the same sentence.

For example, the concept of "change" is often used in the same sentence as the concept of "accommodation" (or "adaptation"). Using the same handshape to sign change, accommodation, and/or adaptation in the same sentence creates ambiguity. (It is not clear).

Polysemic signs (signs which can have more than one meaning) expressed in unambiguous contexts can resist "initialization."

Polysemic signs that have high incidents of "collocation" are less resistant to and benefit more from initialization. Collocation (in this situation) refers to signs that often show up near each other in the same conversation. (Think of collocation as being "located together.")
It is easy to claim that a signer should use the non-initialized "S"-hand version of "free." It is less easy to make that argument if the sentence being signed is:
My wife is an independent, liberated, free thinker who wants to save those in need of rescuing.*

What an amusing mess such a sentence would be if each of those concepts were de-initialized.

Obviously you could argue for a restructuring or rephrasing of the sentence.

You would be missing the point!

Restructuring and rephrasing takes time and effort. It is a form of additional cognitive work that doesn't need to happen simply to appease the crowd of knee jerking clout chasers who label every initialized sign as "Signed English" in an attempt to appear as one of the cool kids.

I get it. Eventually enough people pick up their pitchfork against a particular sign (initialized or otherwise) -- it becomes time to abandon that sign and move on. Language is about group consensus. I am simply cautioning against stabbing signs that really don't need stabbing.

The occasional, purposeful use of an initialized sign is not indicative that you have gone to the "dark side" (and embraced "Signed English") but rather it is a form of intentional "language mixing" resulting from diglossia.*

This post / article should not be interpreted as me championing Signed English. (Since I am not.)

Rather it is me championing the right of Deaf (myself included) to make efficient language choices that lead to clear, easily understood signing -- regardless of the source of that efficiency.

- William G. Vicars, EdD (2020/09/12)





* Yes indeed – those of you who know Bee started nodding your head when you read that sentence about being a free spirit.

* "Language mixing is a ubiquitous phenomenon characterizing bilingual speakers. A frequent context where two languages are mixed is the word-internal level, demonstrating how tightly integrated the two grammars are in the mind of a speaker and how they adapt to each other."
(Source: )

It may help to think more in terms of "unnecessary" English linkage as being the issue.

Marking up your signing with more complex handshapes (when simpler shapes will do) adds unnecessary work and is therefore disliked by those who do a lot of signing.

Doing the sign RED with and "R" hand instead of an index finger doesn't add appreciably to the communication effectiveness of the sign since there are no conflicting homonyms. In other words the sign "RED" isn't competing with any other signs using that movement, orientation, and location  -- except "PINK" and the community has settled on initializing the less common concept. (Thus "pink" gets done with a marked handshape of K/P and RED is done "unmarked" with a simple index changing into an X).

Doing NURSE with a modified-N hand is efficacious (good) because otherwise the sign would be ambiguous and easily confused with "doctor."

The reason why making choices about which signs to initialize is a hard skill for beginning signers is that to know when it is good and when it is not good to use an initialized sign you have to know the spectrum of existing signs.

Beginners can't make good decisions or choices related to when and when not to initialize a sign because beginners do not know which signs have competition (for the same location, orientation, and movement) and which signs don't.
That is why you are following the right path:
Find a decent sign that you see being used by lots of Deaf people and stick with that sign until you have compelling evidence otherwise.
Now just repeat that process 10,000 times.


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