American Sign Language/Location

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Location[edit]

Of all the possible locations on the body or in space, twelve are used to distinguish signs in ASL:

  • the whole face or head,
  • the upper face (forehead or brow),
  • the mid face (eyes or nose),
  • the lower face (chin or mouth),
  • the side face (cheek, temple, or ear),
  • the neck,
  • the trunk (shoulders, chest, and belly),
  • the upper arm,
  • the forearm (including the elbow),
  • the inside of the wrist,
  • the back of the wrist, and
  • the other (weak) hand: In this case, the weak hand may take one of the simpler handshapes listed above, such as the A, O, B, G, H, V, or L handshapes, but not others such as X or R.

In addition, the sign may be made in 'neutral' space in front of the chest (zero location).

For example, a 5 hand tapping the upper face means 'father', tapping the lower face means it 'mother', and tapping the torso (chest) it means 'fine'.

Signs may be made with two active hands, oriented in a specific way both to each other and to the body locations.

Referent locus system[edit]

In addition to phonological location, there is also indexic location. For example, the 2nd/3rd-person pronouns point to their referent, or to a point in space (a 'locus') that's been set up to represent that referent. Directional (indexic) verbs [see below] are similar. However, no words are distinguished by such divisions of signing space.

A referent locus may be set up by signing a noun and then pointing to a certain spot in sign space. The signer can later refer back to that noun by pointing to its associated location (that is, by using an indexic pronoun), or by incorporating the location into the motion of an indexic verb. For instance, if you point to a spot over your right shoulder when referring to your grandmother in another city, you can then mention her again by pointing over your shoulder instead of repeating 'my out-of-town grandmother'. Perhaps as many as eight loci may be productively used to distinguish pronouns in a conversation, before the speakers become overloaded, whereas English is restricted to three third-person pronouns: he, she, and they.

Nouns can be set up without the need for initially pointing by making a sign for them at a salient point in space near the signer. This is often accompanied by the facial expression that indicates a topic. (See below.) For example, when discussing football, you can sign 'college' on your left (most likely by signing 'college' in neutral space and extending the final hold to the locus you're setting up), fingerspell P-R-O at a locus on your right (that is, off to one side rather than in neutral space), and then ask whether one prefers collegiate or professional games by signing 'you like which?', with the indexic pronoun 'which' oscillating between the two loci.