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ASL Linguistics: phonemes

Phoneme:  Smallest unit of language.

For example, in the English word "dog," the letter "d" is a phoneme.  Individual letters in English are phonemes because you can't break them into smaller parts and they have no meaning by themselves. 

ASL phonemes are comprised of:

palm orientation

For example, in English, the letter "d" by itself means nothing (unless perhaps if it is on your report card!)

But when you place the letter "d" with the letters "o" and "g" it helps to create a morpheme (which is the smallest meaningful unit of a language.)"

Note:  (The letters "a" and "I" are more than just phonemes--they are also morphemes because they have meaning all by themselves.")

The same goes for ASL.  An individual handshape means nothing out of context.  It is only when we combine that handshape with movement and a certain location that we able to determine its meaning.


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