In American Sign Language, facial expressions are
an important part of communication.
expressions you use while doing a sign will affect the meaning of that sign.
For example, if you sign the word "quiet," and
add an exaggerated or intense facial expression, you are telling your audience to be "very
This principle also works when making "interesting"
into "very interesting," or "funny" into "very funny."
Facial expressions are an example of a set of behaviors called
"non-manual markers." Non-manual markers include facial
expressions, head tilt, head nod, head shake, shoulder raising, mouth morphemes,
and other non-signed signals that influence the meaning of your signs.
Also see: "Facial
Expressions in Sign Language"
Also see: "Nonmanual Markers."
Consider how facial expressions can affect the simple sign
This version of YOU is actually a question.
"Is it you?"
"Are you ... ?"
Suppose you wanted to say, "It's you?!?! I wouldn't have
thought that it would be you! I'm surprised by that."
You can say all that with just one sign by using appropriate facial
See an animation for this sign: "YOU"
(surprised that it is you)
shares his secret to success with facial expressions::
The secret to my success is that I'm Italian and I use my hands
along with facial expressions. If I had to teach someone I would
tell them to think about the meaning of the word not just the word
itself. I would have them associate a certain facial and body
expression with that word. Like the word "what" I would have them
wave their hands flat in front of them like you do and use a facial
expression such as squint their eyes and maybe bring their head a
little bit forward. Also use of facial expressions as in a question
type sentence so that them request a response from the other person.
If you asked most people to give a facial expression for "sadness"
or "happiness" I'm sure that they would know how to respond.
Associating facial expressions for other words like "which", "what",
"who", "how" is only a matter of coming up with expressions to
associate with them. If your distance education students could just
keep associating expressions with these types of words I'm sure they
would have no problem with their expressive signs, but they have to
In a message dated 8/30/2006 1:00:38 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
Why do sign language people make funny faces?
Dr. Bill's Response:
Becasue we like to laugh.
Ahem...er...no. While most of us do indeed enjoy a good chuckle, I believe
what you are referring to is "facial grammar."
Facial movements and body language are a very important part of ASL.
Skilled users of ASL tend to use a lot of facial expressions to clarify and
extend the meanings of their signs. How you use your face also helps
establish if you are asking a question and whether that question is
open-ended or if it should be answered with a simple yes or no response.
Expressions: "If You Are Not Using Facial Expressions You Are Not Using ASL"
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