Why do I include functional words like “to,” “be,” “by,” and “of” in ASL teaching? Here is my story. "My Personal Journey with ASL Grammar" Functional Words, My Experience I would like to take an opportunity to share my personal journey regarding ASL grammar, specifically functional words like “to,” “be,” “by,” “of,” “in,” “on,” etc. I have practiced to not spell or sign functional words. Instead, I translated and eliminated them completely due to ASL's teaching philosophy in general of eliminating English words. I did this with an open mind, and while doing this I made some observations.
Functional Words, Example 1 By comparison, if functional words can be included, I can spell, sign, and translate them and express myself flexibly. If functional words have to be translated and eliminated, I noticed that I have to sign longer, for example with the sentence, “Be yourself.” The functional word “be” has to be translated and eliminated. Translating from “Be yourself” to “Go act like yourself.” I notice that the sentence is lengthier.
Functional Words, Example 2 Here is another example with the sentence, “The book was written by ___.” The functional word “by” has to be translated and eliminated. The sentence would be, “The book was written who ___.” Is this how common ASL works naturally? I get a strange gut feeling about this.
Common ASL This was when I realized and understood why common ASL got where it is now. There is a reason for this and it has benefits. Actually, common ASL can range from including functional words to translating them and it is flexible, not limited to one part of the range. Also, if functional words can have benefits, why are they not allowed at all?
ASL in Theaters Regarding ASL theaters in general, we as a Deaf audience often found ASL theaters challenging to understand. I checked with the audience and they had similar feelings. I noticed that ASL theaters usually eliminated functional words that end up not looking like common ASL.
ASL Teachers As I socialize with ASL teachers, I haven’t seen any who actually don’t include any functional words at all in their casual conversations. They usually include functional words, unlike in their ASL teaching philosophy.
ASL People Also, in my past experience at deaf schools like Louisiana School for the Deaf, Model Secondary School for the Deaf, Gallaudet University, and when hanging out with Deaf friends, I have never seen anyone who doesn’t include any functional words at all in casual conversations. They usually include functional words. This is how it has always been.
Functional Words, Acceptable vs Not I have noticed that generally when teaching ASL functional words like “for” and “or” are considered acceptable, while the functional words “to” and “and” are not. Why are some words acceptable while others aren’t? Apparently, because in the past ASL teachers noticed that new signers would often overused the words “to” and “and”, so ASL teachers decided to eliminate “to” and “and” completely. But is completely eliminating them the way common ASL works? That was when I decided to dig deeper into what common ASL grammar is like.
Common ASL GrammarI analyzed and constructed the ASL grammar, and the most challenging part were prepositions. Words like “to,” “by,” “of,” “in,” “on,” etc. I had to figure out whether to spell or sign them, translate them, or eliminate them and then put them in order. Language Scale On the scale of English influence, where does ASL fit? Is ASL completely English influenced? No. Is it devoid of English influence? No. ASL has some English influence but on the low end. That is what ASL is.
Measurement of ASL From a linguistic point of view, how is ASL measured? Is it measured by an ASL theory based on ideas of what ASL should look like? No. It is measured by what people sign in the United States and most of Canada. What their sign language looks like is measured as ASL. Theoretical ASL ASL theory often perceives that ASL has to be the opposite of English. This can cause misunderstandings, such as the functional word “to” has to be translated and eliminated all the time. Actually, ASL has some similarities and differences with English. Here is a sentence example where both ASL and English are similar: “I like you”. Both are similar.
ASL’s Journey Actually, ASL is going on its own journey. The first step was to recognize ASL as a language and separate it from English. The process of figuring it out led to the second step, setting up theoretical ASL. It set up the grammar by idealizing what it should be like. It has to be the opposite of English. The process may have caused some misunderstandings. This led to the third step, embracing common ASL as we see it out there. This is what I am teaching. Also, I respect common ASL as a language. I include the range from spelling functional words to translating, not just eliminating one side out and sticking to one part of the range. I don’t do that, and I respect the way common ASL is. I hope this story of my personal journey helps you to see where we are now. Yes, every step is a challenge. Challenge by challenge. The important part is that we step forward and keep going forward, right? Thumbs up.