In a message dated 8/24/2012 8:46:41 P.M. Pacific Daylight
Time, miand2464________ writes:
I have contacted you several times in the past few
I took my SLPI for the first time in April. I got
Survival Plus. (Which KILLED me). The scorer,
_________ of the WPSD, took off major points for
"overuse of initialized signs". He listed 1.
BASEMENT. Which I totally knew better than. But that
B hand just slipped out. 2. LIFE/LIVE. I know that
the pointy finger can be tucked in for LIVE, but
tons of Deaf use the L hand for that sign. Anyway, I
retook it last month (advanced, thank you very
much), and AGAIN he cited my "overuse" of the
dreaded initialized sign. This time, he cited my D
hand in DECISION. I don't even know the alternative
to using the D hand for that. I think he has a bee
in his bonnet regarding the issue. Do you have any
thoughts on this?
The first time I broached this issue with you was
the R hands in RESPONSIBILITY. Thanks for addressing
that at your wonderfully helpful site. It's my GO TO
site for a dictionary. I only go to ________, if you
don't have the sign listed.
I hope we get to meet one day.
The DECIDE (decision) sign has many important ties to the "F"
handshape. Let me share some information with you and tell you a
story. Look at a few coins in your pocket and you'll notice that
the coins which used to be made out of silver have ridges along
the edges. Those ridges are there to prevent the practice of
"shaving." Back in the very old days when coins were made out of
precious metals if those coins had smooth round
edges it was relatively easy and common for unscrupulous people
to "shave" a bit of gold or silver off of the coin.
Shop keepers used to put coins on a balance scale to check to
judge if the incoming coin weighed as much as
the reference coin. If the incoming coin didn't weigh as much,
the shopkeeper could decide that it had been
shaved and thus reject it. If a person was
caught shaving he could end up in court.
Now, is that story true? Perhaps, perhaps not. But my point is
many of those concepts: "coin," "court," "if," "judge," and
"decide" are all based on the classifier "F" handshape
(depiction verb) used to show a "small round object." Someone
who is very familiar with and comfortable using ASL would tend
feel a little "uncomfortable" using a "D" handshape for
the sign "DECIDE." Also, there is no set or combination of
English concepts competing for the location, orientation,
movement, and handshape used by the sign "DECIDE."
The sign "NURSE" gets initialized because the English concept of
"nurse" competes with the English concept of "doctor" for the
same articulatory features(location, movement, orientation). The
signs "GOVERNMENT" and "POLITICS" are also acceptably
initialized because they too compete for the same "real estate."
The sign "DECIDE" is not competing against some other concept
for the articulatory bundle consisting of: "point to head with
the index finger of the dominant hand, then transition to both
hands in front of you in F-handshapes and bring them both
downward a short distance and end with an abrupt stop."
Thus changing the handshape from an "F" hand into a "D" hand
only serves to make the sign more "English-like." Initialization
in this case doesn't serve to reduce competition nor increase
distinction. Rather, initialization degrades the sign "DECIDE"
by pulling it further away from it's iconic roots.
Which signs should and should not be initialized isn't random.
On an individual sign by sign basis it isn't even all that
complex. The challenge is that cumulatively there are thousands
and thousands of yet to be written "rules" that apply to ASL.
I've just "written" a few of those rules for you regarding the
sign for "DECIDE."
As a lexicographer I will likely be documenting such rules and
explaining their applications for the rest of my life. (And it
is also likely I will only manage to make a minor "dent" in the
overall documentation process).
So what is a student or practitioner of a language to do? How
can they come to know when initialization is and is not
Study is helpful but only goes so far.
Beyond study it is a matter of exposure and use.
After a person has obtained sufficient knowledge and skill in
ASL via frequent, prolonged, and ongoing exposure to the
language via interaction with skilled signers he or she will
eventually get a "feel" for what is right and what isn't right.
So, press forward and carry on!
-- Dr. Bill