Non-Manual Markers in American Sign Language (ASL)

We recently received an email from a student about the use of non-manual markers.  This person wanted to know how non-manual markers are used in American Sign Language.  Does ASLdeafined show the use of non-manual markers?

Non-manual markers include the use of facial expressions, body language, head movements, eye gazes, etc.  For example, if you are mad at someone, or about something, you may not have to use even one sign.  You can just show it by the expression on your face.  Or, if someone asked you a “yes” or “no” question, you could simply shake your head accordingly.  Non-manual markers are those additional items (partial list below) that are other than actual signs.  Now, many times you will include a head nod with a particular sign (see the example for “don’t understand” below) to clarify the message.

Here are some non-manual markers you will see in American Sign Language:

  • Head nods
  • Raised eyebrows
  • Tilted head
  • Pursed lips
  • Eye shifts
  • Eye gazes
  • Facial expressions (smile, anger, frown, puzzled look, etc)
  • Body shifts / movements

Usually, non-manual markers develop over time as you become more fluent with ASL.  When you are conversing with a deaf person, notice which non-manual markers they use.  Do they shake their head to indicate an affirmation?  What about body shifting, or eye movements?

After you start noticing non-manual markers, please share them with us by responding to this blog.  On ASLdeafined, we illustrate many non-manual markers.  Check them out when you get the time.

 

Example:

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Now, what non-manual markers did you notice?