ASL Question

rogersgeorge on July 22nd, 2017

Maybe I’m passing up a good opportunity here; after all, this comic is even about a point of grammar. But I’ve mentioned that solecism enough times that both of you dear readers should know how to get “your” and “you’re” correct by now, right?

Here’s today’s Dustin:

Dustin - 07/20/2017

So here’s my question. Well, two: Putting your fingers in an “L” shape against your forehead is a sign in American Sign Language. What does the sign mean? and does it matter which hand you use?

If you happen to know, send me a note in the comments, would you?

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3 Responses to “ASL Question”

  1. The above sign word represents the English word LOSER. But deaf people do not use it, only hearing people trying to insult another hearing person without saying the English word. It doesn’t get used in ASL, though they would understand that you are a hearing person trying to say an insult.

    ASL uses the letter L above when spelling English words, but not on the forehead. The L handshape is unusual in ASL, because ASL is a full language and does not normally borrow from English. However, there are English-support sign systems that borrow words from ASL and change the handshape letter to match an English word they want to imply. The ASL word for LAW has an L handshape, and the same word with an R handshape means RULES, C is COMMAND, T is TESTAMENT, B is BIBLE.

    ASL uses movements on the forehead to generally mean something about thinking, like the ASL words for THINK, FORGET, and WISE. The ASL word for DUMB uses a closed fist (like a rock) facing in to the forehead (alluding “dumb as a rock”). The word for STUPID has the V handshape (two fingers up) facing out from the forehead. Hard-of-hearing people may have missed the beginning “S” sound and, thinking the word was “two-pid,” made a new word that rhymes with DUMB in ASL.

    When the word “loser” became popular, someone using an English-supported sign system would have changed the handshape letter as a variation on the theme. But this is not have much force as an insult in ASL. If you try to use this with a deaf person, you would more be insulting yourself because you demonstrate clearly that you don’t know the language well.

  2. As for the L being backwards, this would be correct for a left-handed person. The non-dominant hand does not move often. It usually acts as a platform for or a mirror of the dominant hand. Occasionally an ASL speaker will change to using their non-dominant hand for some story-telling effect, but they go back to their dominant hand pretty quickly.

    It may look “backwards” to someone who does not use the same dominant hand, but it is so common as to be almost invisible in conversation between deaf people. There’s a chance that a deaf person wouldn’t recall which individual in a group conversation was signing left-handed. They are too busy concentrating on the story’s meaning.

  3. Thank you for your erudite and helpful comments! I think I’ll point people to them from elsewhere in the site.

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