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American Sign Language: "familiar"

A student named Judy writes:

Hi Dr. Bill.
I have been studying from for a couple of years now, with a goal to become a fluent ASL signer. I have emailed you in the past.  I usually can figure out my questions on my own or simply wait and eventually run into the answer somewhere. This time the answer hasn't found me and I need some help.

My question is about the use of the sign that I associate with "familiar," (the "KNOW" sign done on the cheek).  I have seen "FAMILIAR" used at the beginning of a series of signs intended to describe something. For example many of the signs I see online for specialty objects such as tools or hardware (like a "Phillips screwdriver") start with "FAMILIAR" followed by a descriptive component.  I saw you do something similar on your website when you described a silver dollar.

I feel like I almost get the concept of how this sign (KNOW) is being used in this context, but not quite. Can you help me understand it better?  Some way to think about it?



The inflection of the sign KNOW that creates the meaning of "familiar" isn't the location on the cheek but rather the double movement. FAMILIAR can be done on either the cheek or the forehead using a double contact. This double movement creates the meaning of "I know about it already," "I'm aware of," or "I am familiar with that concept."

What tends to be happening when the sign for FAMILIAR occurs at the beginning of a sentence is the signer is using raised eyebrows to create a yes/no question (such as "Are you...?") --  which results in the concept of, "Are you familiar with...?"
Thus the signs "YOU KNOW KNOW (insert-topic) YOU?"-(with_raised_eyebrows) can be thought of as: "YOU FAMILIAR-with (topic) are-YOU?"

The phrase: "YOU FAMILIAR SILVER DOLLAR YOU?"-(raised_eyebrows) means "Are you familiar with silver dollars?" -- which is the equivalent of "Have you ever heard of a silver dollar?" and/or "Do you know what a silver dollar is?"  At which point the other person either nods or gives a negative indication. Then the first signer 
can either explain (if needed) or proceed with a question or statement depending on whether the other person knows about the topic or not.  This helps save time by avoiding the need to explain obscure (or uncommon) topics by checking to see if the signing partner is already familiar with the topic.
- Dr. Bill





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