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Numbers: discussion
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Numbers 1-10  /  11-20  /  21-30  /  31-40  /  100-900  / 1000 and up  /  Fractions  / Ordinals

Below you will find a collection of various information regarding signing numbers in ASL.
To see examples of the number signs, visit the links above.

Numbers 1-5 Discussion:

I tend to sign numbers 1-5 "palm back."  Which is to say, the palm of my hand is facing me. 

Some teachers make a big deal over the palm orientation of the numbers 1-5.  I don't because I see it used both ways by advanced signers.  This really isn't a big deal, but some people try to make it one.  If you have a teacher or friend who "cares" then sign it "their way" when you are around them.

About 20 percent of the time I do numbers 1-5 "palm forward." There are indeed some definable rules for when to do the numbers 1-5 palm forward or palm back.  For example, if you are holding your hand away from your body for emphasis (sort of signing in the other person's face) you will do the number palm forward.  That is the same for the days of the week, which are typically signed somewhat  low and palm back or palm up, (by advanced signers) but are occasionally signed palm forward for emphasis. I once watched Randal King, an excellent native signing friend of mine, give an example of this.
He role played (kidding around) an "arrogant" individual and signed a phrase talking about "I want a report and I want it on Monday!!!"  The last two signs in his sentence were, GIVE-to-me  MONDAY!!!  As Randal signed Monday, he extended his arm outward toward the person he was signing to and did the sign palm forward using a strong motion and strong facial expression.  

Anyway, as a general rule do 1-5 palm back.

Daniel: Is the sign for "2" and the sign for "V" the same?

DrVicars: Yes, 2 and "V" are the same. In normal conversation though, it is never a problem.   For example, my name: "Vicars," you wouldn't misunderstand that as "2icars." Context generally makes it clear. In some situations it might be more difficult.
Suppose you were fingerspelling your screen name to someone and it had some numbers mixed in with the letters. One of the ways to deal with that is to use mouthing. Some Deaf will mouth the number while signing it. Others (the ones who don't like mouthing words or numbers) will vibrate the number back and forth slightly to establish that it is a number and not a letter. Yet another way to deal with "look-alikes" is to sign the letter palm forward and the number palm back. I think when you have mixed numbers and letters, the best way to deal with it is to do the numbers with your palm facing backward and the letters forward.

Sharp: I found it difficult to sign the letter F am I trying to straighten the fingers too much?

DrVicars: I only straighten the pinkie and ring fingers when doing an "F" or "9."  I let the middle bend half-way. Does that help?

Sharp: Thanks.

See:  Numbers 1-10

Advanced number discussion:

DrVicars: When you sign numbers, you do them quite similar to the way you say them in English. For example: If you are signing "1997," you sign "19" then "97." If you do a phone number, just do it as you would say it. I leave a small pause where the hyphen would be so the watcher can write the first part (if they are writing it down), before I do the second part.  The jury is still out on years like 2000 and up.  Most people seem to be doing the individual numbers while sliding the hand slightly to the right.  For example showing a two-zero-zero-zero for the year 2000.  So THAT is the way I recommend you sign the years 2000-2009. (BUT I have time and time again observed native Deaf ASL signers using the "thousand" sign as part of the sign for years 2000 and up.)

Crazy: I don't understand how to do # 16 and on. Do I move my right or my left hand. That's my only trouble.

DrVicars: Numbers change from region to region so check with your local deaf person. The number 16 - 19 can be done a couple different ways. You use your right hand if you are right handed.

Crazy: Do I move my right towards my left?

DrVicars: No. Let me go over 16 and up. There are generally two ways to do these numbers.
To sign "16" you can make a ten and then a six. Or you can take the number six, starting palm backward, twist it forward twice in a small quick motion, ending with the palm mostly outward (toward the watcher).
It is the same with 17 - 19. (For 17 you would "twist" the number 7. Eighteen would use an 8, and nineteen would use a "9.") Is that clear or do you need more explanation?

Tigie: ok thanks

Lii: How do I sign the 20's? I seem to have trouble with those numbers.

DrVicars: Again we have at least two ways. The simplest is to do the number "2" then the next
number. For example, "25" would be done by showing a "2" then showing a "5." A somewhat
more popular method seems to be to sign the letter "L" then the second digit. The "L" indicating
that you are in the "20's" and the second digit indicating which particular number of the twenties.
For example: You can sign "21" by showing an "L" and then a "1." The number 20 looks like
the letter g with the index and thumb closing together a couple times.

Most people tend to bounce the number "2" twice to represent the concept of 22.
[bend the hand down and up at the wrist, first pointing slightly to the left and then again pointing
somewhat to the right.] The numbers 23 and 25 can have a fluttering motion. "23" looks like
the number 3 with the middle finger fluttering up and down a few times. "25" looks like the
number 5 with the middle finger fluttering up and down a few times.

Crazy: So only one hand is use for those numbers we just discussed?

DrVicars: Yes, that is correct.

Crazy: No wonder I was confused, I was thinking it was 2 hands!

Art: What does "L" have to do with it?

DrVicars: "L" has nothing to do with it. That is just the way deaf people do it. Try to not think
of it as an "L" but rather think of it as a digit that in context represents "the twenties." Why do
you say dog instead of woof because that is the way it ended up in the language. We (I) get
spoiled in ASL because so many things are iconic. Who knows what iconic means?

Lii: I don't.

Kloos: Symbolic?

KC: Looks like what it is?

DrVicars: Right KC. The sign for cat visually represents a cat's whiskers. In computer terms, an icon is an image on the screen that represents a certain command. For example, a little picture of a trash can might represent the command for the computer to "throw away" or erase a file, but in general an icon is a symbol or image that represents something. I'm using it here to mean "visually representational." But you need to remember that not all signs are iconic. ASL, like any true language, is symbolic and at times arbitrary. Signs mean what they do because the people who use them say so, and that is the bottom line.

Aimie: It actually makes things easier to remember that way. [iconically]

DrVicars: Oh sure, we are "lucky" there are so many signs that look like what they represent.

Aimie: Like for meat you grab the flesh of your hand!

WVicars1: How about the number 100? What is the handshape?

Student: The letter C.

WVicars1: Right! One bit of advice though--over time the signs mutate and might not look like a C it might look like a crooked finger or the 1000 might look like a bent B

WVicars1: Why do we use the "C" for a hundred, or an "M" for the number thousand? [Note: One of the ways to sign the number 1,000 is to make an "M" on the right hand, then touch the fingertips of the "M" to the center of the left "B" palm.]

Kloos: Same as Roman numerals
WVicars1: Right! Back in the "old days" it started out as an "M" but it has mutated to a bent hand. Some people still do the letter M.

Also, the Roman numeral analogy only goes so far--the roman numeral L doesn't represent the number 50 in ASL. You just do a "5" and a "0."

Kloos: How high should we be able to sign on the numbers?

DrVicars: infinity <grin> No really, just to the thousands, for this class. To do the larger
numbers, you just string them together. For example, to sign 104 you can do "1-C-4" or
"1-0-4."  (I tend to do the 1-0-4 version) To do 111 you sign "1-C-11" and so forth up to 1000. Then you do 1-THOUSAND
(bent right "b" palm fingertips touch center of left flat "b" palm).

In a message dated 7/20/2005 4:05:05 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
We were taught 16-19 this way: make a 6 + rub pinky against thumb a couple times, 7 - rub ring finger against thumb, etc.
Response:  That is a fairly popular way to do it in some parts of the country.  I saw that "style" for the first time at the Indianapolis Deaf Club back in 1986.  I thought it was so strange since I had only seen the "twisting" version up until then (having grown up in Utah).



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