February 26, 2009

Lighter Moments – American Sign Language (ASL) What Means What

Posted in Stories at 12:54 am by Sarah Bosse

Today I was fondly remembering my first few years of learning American Sign Language (ASL) and interacting with the Deaf Community.  When learning a new language with a different grammar, syntax, and so forth, the beginner always experiences a “learning curve”.  Errors are discovered through trial.  

One day, I was hanging out with a Deaf friend, and he used a sign I wasn’t familiar with.  So I stopped him in the middle of the conversation and said (signed) “What does that, [sign], mean?”  He signed back, “What”.  I tried to clarify, as I must not have been clear, but could find only one other way to say the same phrase; “What does this sign, [sign], mean?”  He replied, “What means what”.  Thinking he was incredibly dense, I began fingerspelling.  He replied, “What what [unknown sign] what (fingerspelled)”.  After about ten minutes of going around and around with this, an interpreter became available.  I knew only two signs for the word “what,” and my Deaf friend was showing me another sign for “what” – the same word in English, but three different signs in American Sign Language!  The interpreter kindly said, “All along, you’ve been asking him “what the sign for [what] meant” but the meaning for that [sign] is “what”.  He was telling you that “[What] means what,” not asking you “What means what?”.”  Oy!  


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