Life in progress

Grammar – #AtoZ Challenge


You might think that American Sign Language is an extension of English, and therefore the grammar is the same. It’s not. This creates a bit of a sense of multi-tasking whilst trying to speak and sign at the same time, but with practice it can be done. I know my Sign grammar is not great, but there are a few things that are easy to remember, and a few that are necessary.

One thing I learned fairly quickly NOT to do, is say to my Deaf son, Alex, “Look at that!” when I want him to notice, say, a bird flying overhead. If I say, “Look, a bird!” it’s totally wrong. Why? Because if I sign “Look!” or even point at something, I’ve lost Alex’s attention on myself, so he has no idea what he’s looking for. If he could hear, he’d listen for further instruction. But he’s Deaf. So while he’s gazing out he window at the trees, I’m wildly signing the word “bird” for my own benefit. The proper way to do it in ASL is, “A bird, look!” Alex will then know what to look for. ASL grammar is important.

Another instance is the verb “to be.” It’s pretty much eliminated from ASL. Unlike Signed English, which, to quote Google, “…is a sign language dialect which matches each spoken word of English,” ASL, as you may have guessed, has a grammar unique to the needs of Deaf people. If I want to say “I am going,” I sign, “I go.” If I want to say, “I went,” I sign, “I go finished.” For a visual I often speak to Alex out loud when I sign to him, and many times, since my brain is rarely up to multi-tasking, I’ll say exactly what I’m signing, which must sound quite funny to anyone listening.

Because tenses are pretty much non-existent in ASL it’s important to mention the “when” at the beginning of a sentence, when the action will take place in the future. For example, “Tomorrow, we go to the toy store.” This has become an ingrained part of Alex’s sentence structure. Which means if I say it backwards: “We’re going to the toy store tomorrow,” Alex gets his coat on first, and then waits to find out what we’re doing tomorrow.

It really takes grammar-nazi-ism to a whole new level.

My A to Z theme concerns the joys and challenges of being the hearing mother of my Deaf son, Alex. To learn more about his beginnings in life, click here to go to my first A to Z entry.

Author: Linda G. Hill

There's a writer in here, clawing her way out.

31 thoughts on “Grammar – #AtoZ Challenge

  1. “You might think that American Sign Language is an extension of English…”
    Hahahaha, no.
    Why would that be the case, when they take such liberties with the spoken version?


  2. It makes sense to put things that way in ASL. You are such a good mum!


  3. this is so interesting and makes so practical and sense!


  4. It all makes perfect sense to put the words in that order. We probably should say please first all the time.


  5. That is very intriguing and makes complete sense. We’re learning so much from you!


  6. This is fascinating! Thanks for the info. Sign language is one of the many things I’d like to find time to learn.


  7. It must be pretty tricky to get your around it at first, but looking at the way it is broken down it does seem to make better sense! πŸ™‚


  8. This is all very interesting Linda.We often don’t consider the implications of word order in our instructions, even to hearing people.


  9. This is interesting too. It reminds me a bit of early education where you’re taught to give instruction first and then say please. “Give me the ball, please,” is somehow more effective with children than “Please give me the ball.” More assertive. And I can totally imagine “Look!” losing its purpose. Words are important.


    • Ah, there’s another one! If you don’t put the “please” at the beginning of a sentence in ASL it gets missed. For instance when you want someone to move “Excuse me, please,” doesn’t work if they walk away after the “excuse me.”
      I actually thought the “please” at the end of a sentence for little kids came from having to be asked, “What do you say?” πŸ˜‰ hehe

      Liked by 1 person

  10. That is neat Linda – I didn’t know any of that. Actually English is one of only a few languages that puts modifiers ahead of the modified. So we say “red truck” while , say French would be “Camion rouge”. the English never made much sense to me, it would be more logical to put the noun or verb first and then modify it. When we structure concepts we do that – such as : ” We’re going to the fair after we do the dishes.” – main concept, modifier concept (goto fair ->after dishes) But the truck is red first before it is a truck. What’s with that?


  11. There is so much we do not understand in this world. Thanks for sharing!


  12. Oh goodness you must have so much patience. My hubby is a bit pedantic when it comes to grammar. He would find that soooo difficult.


  13. Who knew Grammar extends to sign too… but it makes total sense!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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