I’ve been working on expanding my expression vocabulary in my writing, particularly the staple “frown” and “grimace.” Then I realized that I simply replaced them with another overused expression–the furrowed brow. Lol. (Yes, this does link to ASL, bear with me.)
I’m a grammar nut, and one of my favorite parts of interpreting is working with the linguistics of English and ASL. Most of you probably know that sign language involves forming words with the hands. But have you thought about how sentences are punctuated? How do you know if the sentence in ASL is a statement or a question? In spoken English, we have inflection and tone to convey grammar, but what about in silent languages?
In ASL, all of the grammatical signals are located on the face, from the nose up. The key feature–the eyebrows. (See, I had a point.) Furrowed brows signal a Wh-Question (who, what, where, when, why). Raised eyebrows show a Yes/No question and a Rhetorical question. ASL uses rhetorical questions differently than English does. They’re often used to introduce a topic, or emphasize the importance of that topic. There’s a lot of expression that goes into ASL beyond just hand movements.
Another form of punctuation and one of the hardest ones for me, is the period. Care to take a guess? Eye blinks. Talk about subtle. My research paper in my final semester of interpreter training involved looking at alternative punctuational and grammatical signals one could use if the standard ones were too difficult. Combining a head nod with the eye blink would be more clear and obvious that the sentence is finished.
Are any of you wondering if the mouth has any function in ASL since the brows are so important? Yep. The nose, cheeks, and mouth give adverbial and adjectival information.
If you really want to learn ASL and use it properly, you’d better get comfortable making very expressive faces. I wasn’t when I started, but I eventually got over it. People might think you’re over exaggerating, or they might even think you’re mad when you’re not. But the expressions in ASL are not superfluous; they’re grammatically necessary.