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Mouthing in ASL:

The question of "Does ASL use mouthing?" is really is only a question in the minds of people who haven't done at least one of the following two things:

1. Lived in the Deaf community.

2. Watched a lot of videos by typical Deaf signers.

If you've done either of those two things, the idea that "mouthing is something that doesn't happen in ASL" -- is ridiculous.

However, the type of mouthing being done by native and near-native signers is as complex and highly developed as the most challenging of nuances in other languages.

For example some voiced languages roll the "R's." Some make extensive use of tone. Some languages use clicks of the tongue. "The Juǀʼhoan language has 48 click consonants among nearly as many non-click consonants, strident and pharyngealized vowels, and four tones. The ǃX and ǂH languages are even more complex." (Khosian, 2019)

A problem arises when beginning level signers start indiscriminately and naively mouthing English while attempting to do American Sign Language. Imagine if beginner in a spoken language were to start indiscriminately clicking their tongue while attempting to speak Juǀʼhoan?

The real solution isn't to tell either beginner to "stop" their mouthing or clicking.

The real solution is to invest thousands of hours becoming fluent in the language.

Instructors of ASL are in an impossible, no-win situation in regard to mouthing. We know mouthing happens in the real world. Yet we do not have the time nor the resources to adequately "teach" a skill that takes thousands of hours to learn and for which the curricula (learning tools) are in a state of infancy (enough for a workshop or two but not enough to make a dent in accomplishing the task).

There is no quick and easy "one-size-fits-all" rule (such as "stop mouthing") that will magically turn a beginner into an advanced signer who knows the 5,000 situations when you should mouth and the 5,000 situations when you shouldn't mouth. You literally need to learn all 10,000 situations.* This investment of time and effort can be expedited (but not replaced) by concentrated study and skilled instruction. Since each situation hasn't been carefully documented and turned into a "lesson in a curriculum" the only avenue forward (at this time) is massive exposure to and engagement with the target language.

* Obviously the 10,000 number is made up but the reality is there is a huge number of such situations and the closer you come to that number the more native-like your signing becomes.

Definition: expedite
1. make (an action or process) happen sooner or be accomplished more quickly. (Source: Oxford)

Khoisan (2019) "Khoisan languages," Wikipedia, retrieved 11/1/19 from )



Also see: Mouthing, (advanced discussion) 


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