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American Sign Language:  "Subjunctive"

<<In a message dated 9/23/2010 12:56:29 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, pgfernandez@ writes:

Good morning,
I am a hearing person who's become hard of hearing in my late youth...I have a somewhat academic question that, while it might not be of general interest, I hope you'll find intriguing enough to answer; it regards the expression of verb mood in ASL. I understand how one can convey by means of facial expression the difference between the indicative mood, as in "you go to school", and the imperative mood, as in "go to school!", but is there a way in ASL of attach the sense of wish, opinion or possibility, but not fact, to a signed verb? As an example, how would one sign "God save the Queen", meaning, "we wish that the Queen be saved by God" as opposed to "God saves the Queen", meaning as a statement of fact that "God actually rescues the queen"? English provides the distinction in meaning between the first and second sentence by means of putting the verb "save" in the subjunctive, recognizable by dropping the "s" in the third person. The first sentence expresses desire, whereas the second reads (in my opinion quite comically) like a newspaper headline publicizing divine intervention on royalty. How would the two sentences be replicated in ASL?

Many thanks and all the best,

Pedro Gonzalez>>

Dear Pedro,
I believe that indeed the subjunctive form (verb mood) is expressed in ASL. The process is not neatly cataloged anywhere that I've seen yet, but using your example, "God save the Queen" we would modify the sign SAVE by doing the initial hold a little longer, the actual movement a little faster, and the end movement a little stronger.  We would look upward toward God with a somewhat pleading facial expression that becomes into a slightly worried facial expression as we return our gaze to our communication partner.
If a person were to discount such modifications to the sign SAVE then he or she might think that there is no subjunctive verb form in ASL. But I think it is important to recognize such modifications:
1. Signing speed
2. Length of hold
3. Facial expressions
4. Eye gaze
Those modifications are morphemes (bound or otherwise) and need to be included when we consider whether we have "modified" a verb or not.
Cordially,
Bill

 


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