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 https://www.signingsavvy.com/sign/WENT/6576/1 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.