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American Sign Language: "block," "blocks," or "wood blocks"

Dear Dr. Bill,
I came across your web address while searching for ASL signs. I am in hopes
that you can help me.  I am attempting to teach my 20 month old son sign language to promote his severely delayed speech and so that we can communicate. Do you know of a comprehensive dictionary for use with children? Through internet and dictionary searches, I have yet to find signs for yogurt or block (noun).  As a beginner trying to put together a 'dictionary' for my son, I am frustrated.
Many thanks,
Pam C.

You will be hard pressed to find a "printed" dictionary that is truly comprehensive since some concepts like "yogurt" and BLOCKS-(toy) do not have widely established signs in ASL and are often just spelled or described.

Some people invent signs for such concepts, but often these "invented" signs are generally not accepted by the Deaf Community. Or at least, not at first. Like any living language, ASL acquires new vocabulary as time goes on.

For example, you can sign "yogurt" like you do ice-cream but instead of an "S" hand use a "Y" hand. While some Deaf are open minded about that idea (initializing the sign "ice-cream" to mean yogurt), many others will reject it immediately and state that it should be fingerspelled. Perhaps later it will become accepted by the majority if and when enough people use the sign that it would be difficult to claim it is not a sign.

To express the concept of "block" or "blocks" you can use the sign "box" and an indication of the size of the block. After it is established in context you can use just the sign "box" to mean blocks. 
You may see some folks modify the BOX sign by doing it with "H"-handshapes (or modified "H" handshapes) as a way of indicating that they are talking about "small blocks."

A few suggestions:
In addition to your web searches, you may wish to also visit your local library and check out an armload of ASL dictionaries and videos.
Keep in mind though that the best ASL dictionary is a living breathing member of the Deaf Community (one who is skilled at ASL and preferably attended a residential school for the Deaf).
Make friends with Deaf people and invite them over. You can ask them how to sign things.

I would also like to mention that in the Deaf world we use fingerspelling with our children.  We simply spell "blocks" to our kids. Over time our kids start doing hand movements that look sort of like "mashed up" fingerspelling. We use context and the general shape and movements to discern (figure out) what our kids are saying.  I recall one time my daughter (age 3 at the time) doing a sign that looked like a wiggly combination of a "K"-handshape with an "I"-handshape. What she meant was "vitamin." (The "K" was actually a mutated combination of the "V" and the "T").  It didn't matter that she had no clue that those handshapes "mapped" to English letters.
Dr. Bill


BLOCK (as in "a small box")
Use "H"-hands to show the sides and then front & back of a small box or block.
box-(modified-h)-01.jpg (86998 bytes)box-(modified-h)-02.jpg (89511 bytes)box-(modified-h)-03.jpg (87564 bytes)box-(modified-h)-04.jpg (93648 bytes)

Also see: BOX
Also see: WOOD




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