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Uses Of Fingerspelling And American Sign Language

1438 words - 6 pages

American Sign Language is the visual language that has been created by the deaf in this country. For those with a limited knowledge of deaf culture or American Sign Language (ASL), fingerspelling may be a foreign concept. Fingerspelling is the act of using the manual alphabet of ASL to spell a word or phrase. All fingerspelling is done with the dominant hand, as are one-handed signs, and is ideally done in the area between the shoulder and the chin on the same side as the dominant hand. This skill serves many purposes and functions in ASL conversation. Some of these purposes include proper nouns, words lacking a sign, emphasis, and when the person does not know a sign. Learning how to fingerspell and understanding its usage is a necessary lesson for any who would like to learn ASL. At first, the speed of fingerspelling shown by more experienced signers and the deaf can seem overwhelming, but practice and experience will aid in the development of skills.
ASL focuses on two main types of skills, receptive and expressive. Receptive skills are a person’s ability to comprehend what is being signed. Expressive skills are demonstrated by a particular person using the signs and concepts that have been learned. Sign Language is best learned in an immersive environment where people are given the complete, voiceless experience. An example of this immersion would be a silent weekend, which is a gathering of ASL users and learners to engage in several days of workshops and presentations. These weekends can be particularly for interpreters in training, or can be open to students and the public as well. The benefit of an silent weekend is the way participants do not voice. Speaking without signing is considered very rude in the presence of a deaf individual. Events like this teach the participants about both the language and the culture. The lack of verbal communication makes the individual’s brain more receptive to the language being acquired, because the person is less likely to fall back on their native language.
One use of fingerspelling is in the discussion of proper nouns. In deaf culture, the first question a person in a Sign Language environment will typically be asked is their name. An exception to fingerspelling a name would occur when an individual has a name sign. Name signs can only be given by a member of the deaf community and often have a reason. A name sign can only be used if the people communicating have already met the person to whom that name sign belongs. For example, it would be confusing, upon meeting someone for the first time, to only give a nickname because the acquaintance might not understand the reasoning behind the nickname. Not only are names commonly fingerspelled, so are other kinds of proper nouns, such as cities. Some regions have signs established for surrounding cities, but these are not known nationally. ASL has regional differences very similar to dialect differences in English. A well known sign...

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