Chapter 12: Student Resources

12.1 Videos of sign languages

American Sign Language

Below are some examples of simple sentences in American Sign Language (ASL), three versions of ‘Who did John see yesterday?’

The first (i.e. (1)) is the normal form of the question; notice that WHO remains in the position of an ordinary object, the position that would be occupied by JANE in JOHN SAW JANE YESTERDAY. (Notice that word order is the same as in

English.) The second and third versions (i.e. (2) and (3)), where the sign for WHO occurs at the end of the sentence, have focus or emphasis on the who — roughly like Who did John see yesterday?
The abbreviation whq stands for ‘wh-question’, that is, a question about ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, and refers to a cluster of properties including furrowed brows, squinted eyes, and slight side-to-side shakes of the head.

Watch the videos carefully and try to identify these features, and thus the whq.

In the ordinary form of the question (as in (1)), the whq features extend over the entire sentence. In the emphatic question, they can either extend over the whole sentence (as in (2)), or they can apply just to the question word WHO, as shown in (3).


‘Who did John see yesterday?’

(1) Side view. (1) Front view. 

(2) ___________________________ whq
‘Who did John see yesterday?’

(2) Side view. (2) Front view. 

(3) ___________________________ whq
‘Who did John see yesterday?’

(3) Side view. (3) Front view. 

Videos courtesy of National Center for Sign Language and Gestures Resources, Boston University (directors Carol Neidle and Stan Sclaroff). Thanks also to Lana Cook for permission to use them.

For further linguistically annotated ASL video examples, click here.

Ts’ixa Sign Language

The following is the video of Maxwell Kebuelemang signing the short piece in Tshàúkák’ùí (Ts’ixa Sign Language) from which the four photographs of Figure 12.7 (p.297) were extracted.

Ts’ixa video

The following is a free translation into English provided by the signer (and slightly edited).

You and me, the two of us, will wake up early tomorrow morning. We’ll meet by the bush. When you see a giraffe, you will kill it. Me, I’ll take the bone and smash it with a rock. And I’ll pour the marrow onto the meat. And then I’ll eat it with you. As we eat, the marrow will drip down from our fingers, and I’ll be licking it.

Thanks to Maxwell Kebuelemang for providing this example for the book. 

12.2 Links

Deaf Sign Languages

Wikipedia (this page also contains links to a number of Wikipedia articles on particular deaf sign languages).

Ethnologue currently lists 138 deaf sign languages (note, one more than was listed when the 2nd edition of the textbook was being prepared) and provides very basic information on them. This list contains, however, at least two alternate sign languages: Australian Aborigines Sign Language and Plains Indian Sign Language.

Alternate Sign Languages

In Aboriginal Australia a number of sign languages were used by widows (usually for six months or so after the death of their husband). See the Wikipedia entry. Plains Indian Sign Language was used mainly to facilitate communication between Native Americans residing Great Plains of the USA and Canada who spoke mutually unintelligible languages. Some useful websites are:

Plains Indian Sign Language
William Tomkins’ American Indian Universal Sign Language, which contains a substantial list of signs
Hand Talk: American Indian Sign Language

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