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American Sign Language: Titles: The use of "be verbs" and articles.
Also see: Titles 1

In a message dated 9/3/2007 1:40:27 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, annsavedbygrace@mchsi.com writes:
In ASL, are 'be' verbs and the articles used in the titles of books and movies, etc?

Dear  Ann,

"Be" verbs (is, am, are, was, were, etc.) and articles (the, an, a) can be either spelled or omitted--depending on how precise the signer wants to be. It is also very common for skilled ASL signers to use "Signed English" to express "be" verbs" as part of titles.  Doing so might be referred to as "code switching." When you are quoting a title that was coined in another language, it is common to switch to that language in order to quote the title exactly.  If an English speaker wants to refer to a book with a Spanish title, he or she will generally quote the title in Spanish. For example, there is a book called "La Vida Rica."  I plan on buying it for my wife for her birthday, (shhhh, don't tell). If I were to translate that title into English it would be "The Life Rich" or more accurately, "The Rich Life."  If I go into a bookstore and ask an employee to help me find the book, I would not ask for "The Rich Life" -- rather I would code switch to Spanish and use the actual Spanish title of the book since that is what it is listed under. 
ASL instructors who follow the "prescriptive" approach will tend to be more strict and tell you that you should spell the "be" verbs and articles in titles.
ASL instructors who follow the "descriptive" approach will be more flexible and point out to you that they see Deaf people handling it titles in a variety of ways in the Deaf Community.
In 2007 a movie came out titled "The Simpsons Movie."  If asking someone whether they had already watched the movie it would be common to sign, "MOVIE, S-I-M-P-S-O-N-S, YOU FINISH WATCH?"  Or even, "S-I-M-P-S-O-N-S MOVIE, WATCH FINISH YOU?" But suppose months later you are at a video store and your Deaf friend is standing at the online computer catalog and wants to know if the store carries that movie and asks you what the title is--you would likely sign either, "T-H-E SIMPSONS MOVIE" (fingerspelling the word "the.") or "THE SIMPSONS MOVIE" (using the signed English sign for "the").
So the rule is, "it depends."
Cordially,
Dr. V

 


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