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American Sign Language: Nonmanual Signals (NMSs)

In a message dated 10/20/2012 7:28:49 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, an student writes:

Dr. Vicars,
Can you explain the difference between nonmanual markers (NMM) and nonmanual signals (NMS).
Thank you,
-  Sarah

Dear Sarah,
Hello :)
A nonmanual signal is a change of your facial expression; the tilt, shake, or nod of your head; and/or the hunching of one or both shoulders -- when used to indicate meaning.
If such movements are not used to indicate meaning then they are not "signals" -- instead we would simply call them twitches.

The term "nonmanual marker" refers to a signal (that you do without using your hands) that influences (marks) the meaning of something else that you are signing.
A non-manual marker is always a non-manual signal.
But a non-manual signal is not always a nonmanual marker.

If we used a nonmanual signal as an independent sign then we wouldn't (or at least in my opinion we shouldn't) call it a marker. For example, if you ask me a question and I shake my head "no" then I'm not marking some other sign, I'm simply signaling (signing) to you the meaning of "no." In that case, the nonmanual signal is not a marker, it is a nonmanual "sign."

Consider the sentence "He arrived very recently."
If we sign that sentence in a somewhat English manner: "HE ARRIVE VERY RECENT" using the initialized form of VERY that looks like "BIG" done with "V" hands then we are not "marking" the sign RECENT with the sign VERY. We are simply using two different signs to create meaning.

However, if we sign in an ASL fashion, "HE ARRIVE RECENT-(CS)" wherein the "CS" means "move your cheek and shoulder together" then we can say that the "CS" (cheek to shoulder movement) is being used to mark the sign RECENT. By "mark" we mean "change or influence the meaning of." We changed the meaning from "recent" to instead be "very recent." Thus the "CS" movement is a nonmanual signal that was used as a non-manual marker.

If you have other questions on this (or any other) topic, do let me know.
Dr. Bill

Also see: Nonmanual Markers