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ASL Facial Grammar: Questions that refer to other questions

Question: A student writes:

"If you're asking a question that's structured like a yes/no question but you expect a more detailed answer, should your eyebrows be up or down?

An example of what I mean would be a teacher asking their class "Does anybody know the answer to question three?"

The question is phrased like a yes/no question, but the teacher expects a student to answer question number three, and not just reply "yes, I know the answer to question three." Would the teacher's eyebrows be up or down?"

- Frankie Jo


When asking a question such as: "Does anybody know the answer to question three?" -- you should still raise your eyebrows.

Sure, you are hoping for more than just a yes/no response but the fact is the response may just be "no" in the form of no one responding. 

You hope to get a response of "yes" in the form of someone providing an answer.
(For example if you ask someone "Can I have a glass of water?" and the person hands you a glass of water you know answer is obviously "yes" since you are now holding a glass of water.

However I'd like to point out that if you ask "Does anyone know the answer to question three?" -- you are really dealing with two different questions.  Let's assume question three is "Why is the sky blue?"

Thus our two questions are:

1. Question Three: "Why is the sky blue?"
2. Does anybody know?

When you ask the yes/no question: "Does anybody know?" --  you are implying that you also expect an answer to your other question (a "wh"-type question based on the concept of "why").

"SKY BLUE WHY?" (brows down) ("What is the answer?")

"ANYONE KNOW ANSWER? (brows up) ("Does anyone know the answer?")

The issue here is that the phrase "Anyone know the answer?" -- is actually a yes/no question combined with an expectation of answering a "wh"-type question.

If you were a bird looking through the window as a teacher of the Deaf (TOD) asked his/her/their class: "WHO KNOW ANSWER?" -- you might see them sign the question with their brows up -- the brows up changes the meaning to "Does anyone know the answer?"

Due to pragmatics (the situational context) -- someone would be likely to respond and give an expanded answer. The expanded answer is to the original question (the one posted on the display) not to the teacher's request for a volunteer.

Remember, we are dealing with two questions here not just one.

"Does anybody know the answer to question three?" is actually asking:

"Will someone volunteer to answer the question 'Why is the sky blue?'" 

If someone responds it implies "yes" (to the teacher's yes/no question) and the expanded response is to the original question.

It is not uncommon for the situation and the facial expression to override the "furrow eyebrows on wh-questions" rule.

A very common example of an exception to the "eyebrows down on wh-questions" rule is the question:

"How are you?" (when used as a friendly greeting).

Raising your eyebrows combined with "situational context" (for example: two people passing each other in a hallway) changes "How are you?" into a yes / no question that actually means:
"Are you well?"
"Are you fine?"
"Are you good?"

All of which are yes / no type questions which are typically answered by signing: FINE (as in "Yes, I'm fine.")

Or some other answer such as "SO-SO" which means "No, I'm not fine."

Or "GREAT" which means "Yes, I'm fine -- I'm doing great!"

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