[Response updated: Fall 2017]
As you very well know, (and have described in your email) throughout the Deaf Community
we see the
You bring up a good point about many commonly accepted signs such as
"TEAM" and "FAMILY" being initialized. Such signs are
certainly "out there and recognized" in the Deaf Community.
The challenge we (as ASL instructors) face is that we are dealing with
several different but overlapping communities, including:
1. The general Deaf Community
2. The ASL Teaching Community
3. The Political Deaf Community
Over time things become "in vogue" (popular or fashionable) within
Sometimes an item, concept, or process will become part of the
"zeitgeist" (the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of
history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time) of one community
but not the other communities.
In the "political" and "ASL teaching" communities it is fashionable to
shun any initialized signs that are "weakly" anchored.
It is sort of like lions going after and picking off the weaker members
of a herd of water buffalo. The initialized sign for TRY is "easy
pickings" for the "lions" (folks with one hand over their ear and one
fist in the air). For many years that initialized version was my
favorite. Then eventually the "A" hand version started gaining
very widespread usage and I decided that it would be in the best
interests of my students for them to learn the "A"-hand version as their
main sign for TRY.
As a community member, you know
that you see the
initialized form of TRY out there.
As an ASL
instructor though you look to your left and you look to
your right and you see your colleagues pouncing on hapless students for
signing TRY with a "T" and you wonder, "Gee, should I be pouncing too?
I don't want to look uncool or like a Hearie." At some point the
pouncing becomes so pronounced that lions start pouncing on other lions.
At some point a little mental switch flips and an ASL instructor starts
to think, "Dang! That does it. I don't care if I see my husband and most
of my Deaf friends sign TRY with a 'T' -- I'm going to teach my students
to do it with an 'S' or an 'A' because that is the right
Then we tell ourselves that it is NOT our job and responsibility to
to our students how the Deaf Community is signing
"TRY" but instead to prescribe
to our students how the
ASL Teaching Community and some of the political community
feel the sign should be done.
And guess what?
If we keep it up--often enough, long enough--eventually there is the
likelihood that the prescription will be swallowed and become part of
the general Deaf Community. At which point we can pat ourselves on
the back and say, "See, we were right." [While our students
scratch their heads and try to figure out why their teacher insists this
is the "right" way but their friend signs it some "other" way.]
You asked which would be the "base" or "older" version of TRY.
I'm pretty sure the older, base version is the "S" version.
However, most of the "lions"
(hyenas?) seem to currently [as of this 2017 update] be using the "A" version.
So, since you asked, I recommend you teach your students to sign "TRY"
using the "A" handshape (or maybe the "S" handshape -- whichever is more
common in your local
community) and then briefly show your students the
other two versions but indicate that in your classroom you prefer "this"
version (and repeat your chosen version).
The fact is, language changes over time. Such changes generally
start small and spread. If enough people adopt the change it
becomes part of the language. Some changes start spreading and then "die
out." Some changes spread amongst part of the community
(age group, geographical location, social status) but never gain
I used to think of people who resisted change (who
approached ASL instruction in a "prescriptive" manner rather than a
descriptive one) as out of touch "purists" longing for the good
old days of "true" ASL while ignoring that language changes
and we are doing our students a disservice by teaching them "historical
versions of signs" rather than the signs that are being used in today's
It is a moot point.
While I think that there are many signs that are legitimately
initialized such as "YELLOW," "HOSPITAL," and "GOVERNMENT" I think that
as an instructor it is best (for my students) if I teach a little on the conservative side
(avoiding initialization as much as reasonably appropriate).
My students might end up in a lion's classroom for next semester's class
and since I desire to protect my students I'm going to teach them the
version that I feel will placate the lion as well as any other versions
that show up often in the local Deaf Community. Teaching
multiple versions takes longer (duh) and every "version" you teach means
less time to teach some other sign so it is important not to become a
"version junkie" for the sake of social safety.
It helps to point out on the first day of class that there exists quite
a bit of variety out there and that you will focus on teaching a good,
solid, version of each sign but that it often isn't the only version of
a sign and that students should stay flexible and expect to see other
versions of signs from their next instructor and in the Community.
Then point out that it is good to learn from different instructors
because it better prepares a student for the vast amount of variety in
the Deaf Community (thus helping them to eventually become better
interpreters -- if that is their job path).
I would also suggest that it is our job as ASL
instructors to teach A-S-L, not "neologisms (newly emerging
slang." Such items may be cool, fun, and/or eventually become ASL but
until they actually are ASL they should not be taught in basic ASL programs.
I asked Byron Cantrell (Deaf, Deaf School/Georgia, Deaf wife, long-time ASL instructor) and he was very much committed to
signing TRY with "S" handshapes. He also felt that all of the various versions of TRY (attempt, strive, etc.) should
be done with "S" handshapes with the exception of "EFFORT" which he felt should be signed with "E" handshapes.
* I asked Lauren Smith (Deaf, Deaf School, long-time ASL instructor,
Northern California area) and
she immediately showed the "S" handshape version.
* In the December 2013 edition of the Sorenson Communications VRS
Newsletter, Ron Burdett, (Vice President of Community Relations) signed
TRY using the initialized version. Thus you have a very respected
Deaf individual who is THE top spokesperson for one of THE biggest
players (SVRS) in the Deaf world is using an initialized version of the
sign TRY in their flagship publication. (See below.)