Deaf Culture #5

When signing a “yes” or “no” question, your eyebrows are always up?

True.  Also, your body is leaned forward slightly and the duration of the last sign is extended.  This sounds complicated to remember, but if you take note of your body language each time you ask a “yes” or “no” question in English, you will probably notice that your body does this naturally.


When signing Wh-questions, your eyebrows are squeezed?

Also true.  When asking a Wh-question (who, what, when, etc.), your eyebrows are lowered and you take on a “quizzical” expression.  Again, this is something that you often do without thought.  To make it easier, think of your facial expressions when asking a young child a question, as this is when our facial expressions tend to be the most exaggerated.


Fingerspelling is used for proper names and words that do not have a sign?

Yes, this is the proper use of fingerspelling.  It can also be used in conjunction with a sign when explaining the use of a specific word.  For example: the word “ambivalence” may be fingerspelled followed by signing DON’T CARE.  Explaining a fingerspelled word is important because, as previously discussed, for native ASL users, English is a second language.  Simply fingerspelling the word does not translate it to ASL.  If they do not understand the word when it is written in English, fingerspelling the word will not make it any more clear..


When fingerspelling, it is okay to mouth each letter?

This is false.  Think of how you are reading this passage.  Are you reading each letter individually?  Or are you reading the letters as whole words?  The same is true of and ASL user.  The word is not seen as individual letters, it is seen as a complete word.  In fact, many words can be recognized simply by the shape they make when fingerspelled.  Just like when you learned to read.  You began by sounding out the individual letters and the more you progressed, the more words you recognized on sight.  This is not a phenomenon that is reserved for native ASL users though.  As you become more proficient with fingerspelling, you will begin to notice that you are recognizing more words and spending less time sounding out letters.


In American Sign Language, regional signs do exist?

Absolutely.  ASL can be regional just as English can be regional.  Whether you say “soda”, “pop”, or “coke” varies by where you are in the US, and the use of “sweetheart” and “honey” is more prevalent in the south than in the north.  The same is true for ASL.  A good example of this is the sign for “store”.  In Flint, Michigan, there is a store near the Michigan School for the Deaf that has a statue of a Native American outside.  The children attending the school began signing a variation of “Native American” when talking about the store.  This sign stayed fairly local, and can be used to identify people who attended the school, lived nearby, or learned ASL from someone who attended the school.  It can be fun and interesting to learn the different regional signs, as well as the stories behind them!