Jack Hirschfeld writes, "Contrived sign language seems very
two-dimensional. You could learn it by looking at picture in a book,
whereas the natural language seems to operate in 3-D space, and involves
the whole body, not just the hands."
Yes, in ASL (the natural sign language), many of the grammatical
markers are portrayed on the face. That is why two deaf people
communicating with each other look at one another's face, not their hands.
Space and spatial relationships are also used for grammatical and
semantic purposes. Actor and agent (semantic roles), for example, can be
determined by where certain objects are placed and how the verb moves
You are also correct that deaf people mix fingerspelling with signs,
but there exists a sort of continuum. The more ASL they use, the less
fingerspelling they use. The more Signed English they use, the more
fingerspelling is mixed in. This practice makes sense when you stop to
realize that fingerspelling is a form of English, and ASL is not.
And speaking of continua, natural sign languages and contrived sign
languages do not exist in isolation. Frequently, one influences the other,
and we end up with a signed pidgin. In fact, the sign language that most
deaf people use when communicating with hearing signers is called Pidgin
Signed English (PSE), and this system also employs lots of fingerspelling.
Robert Ingram, Ingram Communications
33717 Second Street, Union City, CA 94587-3401
(510) 475-7239 (510) 475-8011
"Everybody's beautiful, each in his or her own unique way, and the more we
respect other people's differences--the things that make them unique and
beautiful--the more we come to appreciate what is unique and beautiful in
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