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Concepts back.gif (1674 bytes) marriage

SINGLE: The American Sign Language (ASL) sign for "single"

Also see: "married"


SINGLE (version)
Note: This version of "SINGLE" also means: "something / someone / alone / only."  It is a very flexible sign and you must rely on context to understand the meaning.
This sign
is made by holding the right arm in front of you, palm up. 
Your right index finger makes circular motions about the size of a quarter. The movement is in your shoulder and elbow, not in your wrist. 


SINGLE ("not married" version)
Another way to sign "single" as in:  "I'm not married."


SINGLE ("only, only one, just..." version)


There is a version of single that you might still see being used in some of my older videos and/or by some people in the Deaf Community:

SINGLE-["initialized" version]

This variation of the sign SINGLE specifically means "not married."
This is an "initialized sign" and is no longer recommended by ASLU but you should probably have it in your receptive vocabulary so you can recognize it if you see it.

SINGLE [initialized version]

There are those who will tell you that the initialized version of the sign SINGLE is "Signed English."  Just nod and agree with them but in the back of your mind consider the fact that for about 30 years or so this version wasn't thought of by average Deaf folks as Signed English -- it was simply how many of us (possibly even MOST of us -- but I don't have any research to back that up) did the sign while using real-life everyday ASL at the time.  The fact though is this sign has fallen out of favor and is not recommended. For more information see the notes below.





Also see:



Advanced notes:

The sign SINGLE (index finger to sides of chin) "won" the popularity contest over the initialized sign for single for use in low-context signing.

The sign SINGLE / someone / something / alone won the popularity contest for high-context signing of the concept "single."

The sign SINGLE doesn't need nor rely on the "S" initial for clarity since the index to the sides of the mouth (or chin) defaults to the meaning of "single" (not married and/or not in a long-term relationship).

The sign BACHELOR retained its initial "B" handshape likely due to its utility for disambiguation.


A discussion regarding the initialized version of the sign for SINGLE:

A while back a Teacher of the Deaf (who is a friend of mine) was reviewing one of my older quizzes and noticed an old initialized version of the sign for "single." 
She emailed me to comment about it. 

<<OH....single...with an "s" and not the first finger on each side of the mouth?   I see....that was a very English-type sign. I'm surprised you signed it that way. Hmm. Interesting. Is that how everyone is signing it now in ASL? Should I change that? I don't want to be left out of the loop. :)

Smile!! I showed my (Deaf) kids your signs and they thought it was so neat to be able to pull that up on the web. They also thought it was neat that I knew you. My kids are 6-8th grade and vary in ability levels from 1st-5th grade in reading levels. They all enjoy being able to see adult signers. I enjoyed being able to pull up your site in class. Thanks for the info!! Hope all is going well. 

- Michelle
Deaf Ed Teacher
[Name changed to protect privacy]

[Note to readers: The following response has been edited and changed over time.  The fact is, language changes.]

Dear Michelle,

Let's discuss this a bit and consider some background so that we might avoid falling into that unfortunate group of people that think "there is only one right way" -- which, strangely enough, usually happens to be their way.

If a person were to have gone through the Lifeprint / ASLU lessons starting with lesson 1 and working forward, they would get to lesson two which contained the vocabulary word "single." Then they'd go to the "single" page, and see the variations.

Please DO go to the page so you can see what I'm talking about:
[Note: That link may change over time, if so visit the ASLU dictionary and click on "single."]

It make take a while to load because of the many graphics, but you will notice that I show the "index" finger version of the sign "single" as well as the "initialized" version.

 You asked if that is how "everyone is signing it in ASL now?" 

I've yet to see "everyone" sign "anything" exactly the same. 

I sometimes include the lesser known variations of signs on the quizzes to make sure my students are thoroughly familiar with a wide range of sign choices.

It is an arguable fact that SOME culturally Deaf signers do sign "single" with an "S" and I expect my online students to learn that variation as well as the other variations.
[Note to readers: The above sentence was written years ago -- it is still a good idea to know variations though if you have the time and energy available to you.]

You said that the "S" version of "single" is an "English-type" sign.

My response is:  Just because a sign has an initialized handshape doesn't automatically make it "Signed English."  For example, at the time of this writing, "aunt" and "uncle" use initials and are not (yet) considered "English type" signs.
[Note to readers: Again, you need to put this in historical context.  As time goes on .]

There are many, many legitimate, widely used ASL signs that are initialized. Here are a few for example: Congress, yellow, workshop, Monday, rope, ready, semester, nurse, project, patient/hospital, law, governor, elevator... and many other signs that use an initial yet are certainly considered to be American Sign Language "signs." 

But, since initialization is such an easy target to bash, many purists like to wield their clubs with glee. 

ASL is a living language though, and as such is constantly changing and incorporating new lexicon (vocabulary) -- which is why I encourage my students to interact with local native Deaf adults and see what is being signed in their regions and then sign like the locals do.

Now, back to the "single" sign -- I'm telling you that in the 1990's the "initialized" version was NOT considered "Signed English" by most Deaf adults. It was just "the" sign for "single" (as in not married).

To verify this for yourself you could check a copy of the following book:

Costello, E., & Lenderman, L. (1994). Random House American sign language dictionary (1st ed ed.). New York: Random House. 

In that book, Elaine (a.k.a. "Dr. Costello)  lists the side to side mini-sweeping motion of the upright index finger version of single as her main version.
She lists the initialized version as an alternate version -- and she doesn't even mention the "index finger to the sides of the mouth" version.

Does her listing of the initialized version of single in her dictionary "prove" that it is ASL (or at least "was" ASL)?

I reckon that depends on if you respect Elaine and take her word for it.

A person convinced against their will, is a disbeliever still.

I could even jump on the other side of the fence and point out that the sign SINGLE has a non-initialized version that works well, (the index finger to the sides of the mouth) but the sign AUNT doesn't have a non-initialized version, therefore "SINGLE"-(initialized) is not as legitimate of an ASL sign as is AUNT. But then again, I could sign, "MY DAD, HIS SISTER" to mean AUNT.

Obviously, initialized signs for words like "I" and "WE" are not necessary in ASL. (Unless, perhaps, if you were using certain initialized ASL signs as "tools" to discuss English.)

Suffice to say, if you'll take the time to read the prefatory material in the front of her book, Elaine--in addition to her own lifetime worth of expertise gained from interacting with thousands of Deaf people--employed the knowledge and expertise of over 80 "sign informants," (most of whom apparently are/were Deaf) to ensure the appropriateness of the content of her dictionary. 

So, if one or two, (or 10 or 20) people choose to debate the issue, I suggest they go debate it with Dr. Costello and her team of 80 sign informants and whatever other "experts" out there that have included it in their dictionaries.

For now, I'll list the initialized version of "single" near the bottom of the "single" entry of the ASLU online ASL dictionary and curriculum.  It is good for a student (or interpreter) even if they don't personally use the sign -- to be able to recognize that version if they see it on the hands of a Deaf person who might still use it.

Warm regards,
- Dr. Bill


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