Appendix B: Useful Terms for Understanding American Sign Language
The definitions provided in this appendix are for terms that are not used in the curriculum but that are important for understanding ASL. Definitions for terms that are used in the curriculum are provided in the glossary.
alliteration. A literary device that uses deliberate repetition of handshape, location, or movement and hold for stylistic effect (e.g., the Y handshape in the ASL poem “Cow and Rooster” by Clayton Valli).
allusion. A brief reference, explicit or implicit, to a place, person, or event related to the ASL community that reflects the perspective of the ASL community. It may be historical, cultural, literary, religious, mythological, political, or societal (e.g., in Clayton Valli’s ASL poem “Hands” an allusion is made to freedom and ASL pride).
anglicism. A word, phrase, idiom, or sentence structure borrowed from the English language. Using anglicisms such as apostrophes, English patterns of subject-verb agreement, or pronouns while constructing content in ASL is inappropriate.
animation. A series of images created in ASL to give the illusion of movement. The images can be created and manipulated digitally, allowing for two- and three-dimensional animation.
anti-discriminatory language. Language that is inclusive and respectful of all, regardless of ancestry, culture, ethnicity, sex, disability, race, colour, religion, age, marital or family status, creed, gender identity/expression, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or other factors.
arbitrary word. An ASL word with a structure that does not reflect the characteristics of the concept, object, or activity it represents (e.g., CONFIRM). See also iconic word.
ASL academic discourse. A form of ASL discourse that explores a way of thinking about or discussing information in an educational or scholarly way; for example, conversations, questions, statements, exclamations, instructions, directions, anecdotes, announcements, news broadcasts, interviews, presentations, lectures, recitations, debates, reports, role plays, and drama, in an academic context. In the glossary, see also ASL discourse, ASL discourse forms, ASL discourse structure.
ASL as an academic language. A formal form of ASL used in exposition, debate, presentation, and literature. ASL as an academic language can convey complex, abstract content. It is necessary to develop proficiency in ASL as an academic language in order to learn the skills of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. See also level of ASL, technical language.
ASL compound. An ASL word formed by combining two ASL free morphemes (e.g., the word hotel comprises HOME^SLEEP, bruise comprises BLUE^SPOT).
ASL conditional sentence. An ASL sentence that conveys, contains, or implies a supposition, and is part of the topic structure in ASL. The ASL words #IF and SUPPOSE can be used to express the conditional. Non-manual markers also convey the conditional and can be made without the use of #IF and SUPPOSE (e.g., with raised eyebrows, a head tilt, a short pause, and an eye-gaze shift).
ASL discourse marker. An ASL word or short lexicalized phrase that creates coherence by establishing a relationship between the various ideas presented within an ASL literary work, ASL text, or conversation.
ASL-English biliteracy. The ability to decode, comprehend, assess, and evaluate both ASL and English literary works and texts. To become biliterate, students use their first-language skills to develop their second-language skills in a variety of contexts and learn to make cross-linguistic connections between ASL and English, while developing their metalinguistic and metacognitive skills.
ASL grammatical patterns. Patterns that can be identified in all aspects of ASL (e.g., inflection, auxiliary verbs, pronominalization, classifier structures, and word order).
ASL humour. The expression of something amusing or comical in ASL. ASL humour reflects common experiences unique to the ASL community and is based on ASL narratives, word play, irony, and other comedic devices.
ASL lexicon. The collection of words that make up the language of ASL, or a repertoire of ASL words within a specific lexical field. The individual ASL words in a collection are called “lexical items”. In the glossary, see also ASL vocabulary, ASL word.
ASL locative verb. A verb that indicates location and relationship by showing how people or objects are spatially related to each other.
ASL name sign. A sign that functions as a person’s ASL name. There are two types of name signs: “arbitrary” (ANS) and “descriptive” (DNS). The majority of contemporary name signs are arbitrary and are based on the first letter of a person’s legal name. Other name signs are descriptive and are based on the physical characteristics of a person. Name signs are rule-governed and are assigned by members of the ASL community to people who are or become part of the ASL community. See also Classic Ontario ASL (CO ASL).
ASL-phabet. The specific system of graphemes developed for writing words in ASL. It consists of thirty-two graphemes: twenty-two for the handshape parameter, five for the location parameter, and five for the movement parameter. All ASL words are written in a sequence of graphemes with the relevant handshape, location, and movement information. See also ASL-phabetic order; in the glossary, see also ASL graphemes.
ASL-phabetic order. The basic order for writing words in ASL. When writing an ASL word, its graphemes are written in the order of, first, the relevant handshape (H) information, second, the location (L) information, and third, the movement (M) information. See also ASL-phabet; in the glossary, see also ASL graphemes.
ASL phonemic awareness. The ability to identify and manipulate phonemes – the smallest units of ASL words, including handshape, location, and movement, which contain no meaning in and of themselves.
ASL phonetics. The relationship between graphemes of ASL, which function like letters in English, and the individual parameters of ASL. In the glossary, see also ASL graphemes.
ASL poet. A person who creates ASL poetry and who may also study, analyse, and experiment with it.
ASL proficiency assessment. An evaluation or analysis that measures an individual’s ASL proficiency against a standard set of ASL competencies.
ASLSL. An acronym that stands for “American Sign Language as a Second Language”. It is used to refer to second-language learners who aim to develop an awareness and understanding of ASL language and culture.
ASL referent. The subject being referred to in ASL. Indicating a referent involves “indexing” or pointing with the index finger at a person, object, or place that may be physically present (“real-world indexing”) or that may not be physically present (“abstract indexing”). The person names a referent and then locates it by pointing to a specific location in the signing space. The person may repeatedly point to the same location to refer to the non-present referent, as needed, (e.g., when conveying a narrative with two or more characters). In the glossary, see also indexing.
ASL storyteller. A person who creates, constructs, and/or delivers stories in ASL that incorporate a variety of ASL conventions and literary and stylistic devices.
ASL trickster. A mischievous figure in an ASL story who mediates between characters and audiences, challenges boundaries and social norms, and comments critically on the narrative. A trickster usually has magical powers and usually appears in a human form, depending on the specific ASL community and the purpose of the story. See also ASL trickster tale.
ASL trickster tale. An ASL story featuring a trickster-hero protagonist. Trickster tales are told both for amusement and education. See also ASL trickster.
ASL word play. A literary technique in which the ASL parameters of ASL words are manipulated for an intended effect (e.g., humour, wit, emphasis).
asset-based language. Language that values what a person or a group of people contributes to society; for example, language that focuses on the strengths of ASL people and other Sign Language Peoples and that views their perspectives and their cultures as positive assets. See also inclusive language.
assimilate. To absorb and integrate an individual or group into the culture of another.
basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS). Language skills that language learners acquire through everyday conversation and interaction. BICS are typically developed before academic proficiency can be acquired. See also cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP).
canon. A collection of related ASL literary works that have been regarded over a period of time to reflect a sophisticated and complex use of ASL language and structure as well as humanistic values. Works that are considered part of the canon include “For a Decent Living”, “Dandelions”, and “Cow and Rooster”.
carnivalesque discourse. A type of aesthetic language that is found in some literary works. Carnivalesque discourse contests and tests authority and traditional social hierarchies through the use of parody, travesty, and farce. Examples can be found in ASL dramatic works such as “My Third Eye” by D. Hays and “Circus of Signs” by A. Blue.
Classic Ontario ASL (CO ASL). The dialect used today by members of the ASL community in Ontario. It originated at the Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf (formerly called the Ontario School for the Deaf) in Belleville, Ontario. See also ASL name sign.
cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP). The language ability required in the classroom for academic work. Unlike conversational language proficiency, CALP requires the ability to analyse, synthesize, and evaluate complex and conceptual language. Students need at least five years to develop cognitive academic language proficiency in a second language. See also basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS).
colloquialism in ASL. The linguistic style used in everyday conversation, but not in formal ASL discourse. It is considered an informal ASL register. In the glossary, see also register.
commonly confused ASL words. ASL words often mistaken for other words that are constructed in a similar parameter (e.g., DEER and MOOSE; RABBIT and HORSE).
compose. To create an ASL work (e.g., an ASL poem, an ASL report, or an ASL story) using the ASL constructing process.
cultural minority group. A group of people that is culturally and/or linguistically distinct from the majority.
culture shock. A sense of confusion or uncertainty that an individual may experience when encountering another culture that is unfamiliar or unknown to them.
dialect in ASL. A variation of ASL particular to a geographical area or cultural-social group. An ASL dialect is distinguished from mainstream ASL by differences in articulation, ASL conventions, ASL vocabulary, and ASL grammatical structures.
facial expression. Movement in the face that can be combined with posture to denote an attitude and/or emotion. This is distinct from non-manual markers.
fingerspelling. A system made up of twenty-six specific handshapes that represent the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. Fingerspelled words are produced in a fixed position in the signing space in front of an ASL person with each letter produced in sequence (e.g., T-A-X-I).
foreshadowing. A literary device that gives the audience hints about future events. For example, it is used in Samuel Supalla’s literary work “For a Decent Living”.
fossilization. In second-language acquisition, the process by which incorrect language gradually becomes ingrained and the individual has more and more difficulty developing fluency in the language.
free verse. A style of ASL poem that is constructed without a regular metrical pattern. Free verse may be rhymed or unrhymed. In the glossary, see also ASL poetry.
frozen ASL word. An image representing an ASL word in a still picture or video frame that does not capture the parameter of movement in ASL. Particular frozen ASL words are sometimes selected for flyers, brochures, or e-booklets.
Gallaudet University. The world’s only accredited liberal arts university where students can study in both ASL and English. It is located in Washington, DC.
hyperbole. A literary device in which exaggeration is used deliberately for effect or emphasis (e.g., a flood of tears, piles of money). For example, it can be found in Mary Beth Miller’s ASL literary work “New York, New York”.
hypernym. In linguistics, a word with a broad meaning that more specific words fall under. For example, FRUIT is a hypernym of APPLE, GRAPE, and ORANGE. See also hyponym.
hyponym. In linguistics, a word of more specific meaning than that of the general word applicable to it. For example, GREEN is a hyponym of COLOUR. See also hypernym.
iconic word. An ASL word with a structure that reflects the characteristics of the concept, object, or activity that it represents (e.g., HOUSE). See also arbitrary word.
idiom in ASL. A group of ASL words that has taken on, through usage, a special meaning different from its literal meaning (e.g., TRAIN GONE SORRY).
inclusive language. Language that uses equitable vocabulary when referring to individuals and groups of people, thereby avoiding stereotypes and discriminatory assumptions. Inclusive language helps people to feel valued, welcomed, included, and respected. See also asset-based language.
intercultural competence. A combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that enables individuals to communicate and interact across cultural boundaries. It includes the skills of finding information about a culture; interpreting this information to understand the beliefs, meanings, and behaviours of members of that culture; relating one’s own culture to the target culture; and interacting with members of that culture. In the process of developing these skills, language learners acquire knowledge of the other culture, a heightened awareness of their own, as well as knowledge of the processes of interaction between two cultures. A precondition for successful intercultural interaction is an attitude of openness and curiosity, as well as a willingness to look at the world from the other culture’s point of view.
interlanguage. A transitional linguistic system that is entirely different from both the learner’s first language and the targeted second language. Interlanguage has linguistic elements of both the first and second languages. The concept was defined by Larry Selinker in “Interlanguage”, International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching,10, 3 (1972): 209–241.
irony. A literary device or rhetorical technique used in both everyday conversation and literature to convey meaning that differs from, and is often the opposite of, words’ literal meaning.
language contact. The phenomenon that occurs when words or phrases from one language are introduced into the context of another language, therefore affecting each other (e.g., two sign languages or a sign language and a spoken language). Lexical borrowing, code switching, foreigner talk, interference, pidgins, creoles, and mixed systems are terms that refer to one language’s influence upon another.
legend. A folklore narrative sometimes regarded as historical fact though it is unauthenticated. Legends are often alluded to in ASL literary works and shared in ASL community gatherings. Examples are “The Deaf Spies of the Civil War” and “The Statue of Abraham Lincoln”.
level of ASL. The degree of one’s proficiency in ASL. A person’s ASL level refers to their ability to select the appropriate ASL conventions, vocabulary, classifiers, and grammatical structures to convey content for specific purposes, audiences, and contexts (e.g., knowing how to tell the same ASL story to suit different audiences, such as a child, an adult, or a professional mentor). See also ASL as an academic language, technical language.
lexical borrowing. Words borrowed or adopted from another language. Just as English has borrowed many words from different languages, ASL has adopted some words from other sign languages (e.g., the word AUSTRALIA from Auslan, the word BAD from British Sign Language).
linguistic discrimination. Unfair treatment and violation of an individual’s dignity based solely on their use of language. For example, although ASL and LSQ are recognized as languages of instruction as outlined in Regulation 298, “Operation of Schools – General”, R.R.O. 1990, Section 32, many ASL and LSQ people still experience linguistic discrimination.
literary criticism. The systematic analysis, judgement, and interpretation of ASL literary works.
LSQ culture. The values, beliefs, norms, heritage, identity, and institutions of a community predominantly found in Quebec and in parts of Ontario that uses LSQ as its language. In the glossary, see also langue des signes québécoise (LSQ).
marked handshape. One of a number of handshapes, such as X, 7, R, T, E, and 8, that are more difficult to construct than others. They are used less frequently than unmarked handshapes in ASL. See also unmarked handshape.
mnemonic device in ASL. A learning device to help students retain large amounts of information through a meaningful visual or lyrical approach. Students can use a variety of devices, such as spatial location, acronyms, phrases, rhymes, and diagrams, to help them memorize ASL vocabulary, plots, dates, facts, figures, and points of view. Other examples of mnemonic devices include ASL grapheme mnemonics (e.g., ASL vocabulary flashcards), name mnemonics (e.g., colour in order: ROY), ASL rhyme mnemonics (e.g., repetitive handshapes in ASL poems), and ASL word mnemonics (e.g., 5, Y, 3 handshapes in Clayton Valli’s “Cow and Rooster”).
mood. A literary element that evokes atmosphere or feelings in an ASL literary work or ASL text. Mood is created by the particular words and style used to describe characters, objects, or surroundings. For example, an ASL literary work may create a frightening, chilly, intimidating, or jubilant mood, depending on the author’s choice of words and style.
moral. A lesson, especially one concerning what is right or prudent, that can be derived from a story or text, a piece of information, or an experience.
morpheme. The smallest unit(s) of meaning in an ASL word (e.g., free morpheme: LOUSY, bound morpheme: THREE-WEEK).
multiple roles. One person portraying more than one character in a play (e.g., Bruce Hlibok playing Albert Ballin, Alexander Graham Bell, and his wife, Mabel, in the “The Deaf Mute Howls”).
onomatopoeia. The use of a word that makes a sound suggesting its meaning. In ASL, onomatopoeia refers to the mouth movements that characterize the sound an object or event makes in the context of an ASL narrative. For example, the production of the ASL word TUMBLE involves making a falling movement with the hands and the mouth movements BLA BA BA at the same time.
pause in ASL. A brief stop or interruption in an ASL sentence that incorporates non-manual markers. A pause is used to achieve an intended meaning or effect.
personification. A literary device in which human qualities, such as emotions and behaviours, are attributed to something non-human. Personification is commonly used in ASL literary works (e.g., objects and ideas are personified to make them more relatable).
pragmatics in ASL. The study of what people choose to convey and how they convey it from the range of possibilities available in ASL – and the effect of those choices upon audiences. Pragmatics involves understanding how the context influences the way an individual chooses to convey information in ASL (e.g., depending on the audience, a poet/storyteller/producer’s choice of the form of an ASL work, ASL content features, use of ASL conventions, and presentation style) and how those choices affect the audience’s understanding.
referential meaning. The meaning conveyed when a person, object, idea, or state of affairs is represented by a lexical word or sentence for that targeted subject. For example, the ASL word CANADA is the country that has the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the United States to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Arctic Ocean to the north: the country is the referent of the ASL word CANADA.
rhetorical device in ASL. Element of style used in ASL works to achieve special effects or emphasis, usually in order to persuade, interest, or impress an audience (e.g., rhythm, repetition, rhetorical questions, emphasis, balance, or dramatic pauses).
rhetorical question in ASL. A question embedded in a sentence not to obtain information but to connect related comments. ASL words used in the construction of rhetorical questions are WHY, WHEN, WHERE, REASON, WHO, WHAT, and FOR-FOR. The WH non-manual markers are also used to render a rhetorical question (e.g., eyebrows raised, and head tilted or shaking slightly). The label used to gloss rhetorical questions in writing is rh.
role playing. A dramatic technique in which a participant acts the part of another character, usually in order to explore the character’s thoughts, feelings, and values. It is not to be confused with referential shift (also known as role shifting) in ASL linguistics.
run-on ASL sentence. An ASL sentence consisting of two or more sentences or clauses that are improperly combined, without using the correct conjunction(s) and inflection.
semantics in ASL. The study of meaning in ASL: how words and sentence structures relate to the persons and/or objects they refer to and the situations they describe.
simile. An explicit comparison in which one object is likened to something different by the use of ASL words such as SAME-AS, SIMILAR (e.g., IX=1 BRAVE SAME-AS LION.).
social meaning. The meaning conveyed by ASL words or sentences that reveal information about the social identity of an ASL person – for example, ASL words such as TEST (regional differences) and sentences such as CAR ACCELERATE (adult and child differences in ASL word construction).
sociolinguistic competence. The ability to interpret the social meaning of language and linguistic variation, which enables the person to participate and interact successfully in a variety of contexts.
sociolinguistics. The study of language in relation to cultural and social factors. For example, the study of appropriate language conventions in particular social and cultural contexts or of linguistic variations.
syntax error in ASL. A violation of the grammatical rules of ASL.
synthesis. A new ASL literary work or ASL text that is formed when ideas and information are linked, combined, and/or integrated.
target language. A language that a person is learning, other than their native language. For example, ASL is the target language for an English-language person who is studying ASL as a second language.
technical language. The terminology used and understood by a discipline, trade, or profession (e.g., CLOSE-UP or FADE-OUT in the film industry). See also ASL as an academic language, level of ASL.
technique (media). A means of producing a particular effect by the use of ASL narration, animation, simulation, camera angles (high, normal, low), close-up shots, fade-in, fade-out, superimposition or juxtaposition of images, time-lapse photography, juxtaposition of colour and black-and-white photography, live-action, special effects, vibration, speed, motion, flashbacks, collages, and dialogue using an ASL lens.
unmarked handshape. One of a number of frequently used handshapes in ASL, such as A, S, B, 5, 1, O, and C. ASL children of ASL parents tend to learn these handshapes first because they are the most common. See also marked handshape.
word root in ASL. A primary handshape with an encoded lexical meaning that is used to construct ASL words that share a similar denotation (e.g., the 1 handshape used to construct the ASL word FIRST-PLACE; the 2 handshape to construct the ASL word SECOND-PLACE).