July 6, 2017

American sign language and its grammatical elements

 

 

As American Sign Language is a very specific system of communication, it has its own grammar. Just like Americans use English in a certain way, so does the Deaf Community. Although ASL grammar has certainly derived from English, its rules will seem odd to people who do not belong to the Deaf Community.

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The first thing that makes American Sign Language different is the word order. While we have fixed word order in English, ASL speakers place parts of the sentence in various combinations according to what they intend to say. There are classic Subject-Verb-Object and Subject-Verb patterns alongside Time- Subject-Verb-Object and Time- Subject-Verb word order. The time frame is placed at the beginning of the sentence. ASL speakers also use other formats of word order and rearrange parts of the sentence according to what they want to emphasize. Several variants are possible.

Unlike English, ASL is fully devoid of be-verbs and articles. Nor does it use auxiliary or link verbs. The category of time is expressed not by verb but by a determiner placed at the beginning of the sentence. Instead, ASL speakers use topicalization and facial expression to clarify their statements. In topicalization, a speaker uses a topic-comment pattern. First, they mention the topic and the sentence proceeds with the explanation of the topic. Punctuation in ASL is performed with pauses and facial expressions. After all, the Deaf Community greatly relies on speaking their language in the sense of signing it.

Just like any other language, ASL evolves and changes fast. Older ASL teachers sign differently than young folks, but there is no way to evaluate one variant of grammar over the other. The grammar of ASL is correct as long as it is understandable and easy to use for speakers.

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