ASL University ►

American Sign Language:  "Linguistic Intuition"

Why is it that native Deaf people have a seemingly instinctual feel for whether an emerging sign is appropriate or not?

This page will explore some of the reasons behind "DEAF GUT" as applied to neologisms and protologisms:

1.  Ergonomics: The term "ergonomics" is derived from two Greek words: "ergon", meaning work and "nomoi", meaning natural laws. Ergonomists study human capabilities in relationship to work demands, (source: 3/27/2010).  The "ergonomics of signing" has to do with the degree of stress signing places on a signer's body.  Each sign has an "ergonomic factor" which is the degree to which the production of that sign causes pain or discomfort.

2.  Discordance

Notes to be developed:
*  broad spectrum awareness:  (That seat is taken)

*  neurolinguistics  (ex: shoe store / food store / head pat / belly rub / dominance condition)
*  conditioned responses (rattle snake)
*  efficiency principle: "birthday vs birth-day"

* It isn't just "zeitgeist!"  Exploring The "REAL" reason for avoidance of initialization...



Richard Horrell-Schmitz (2010) likens this ability (Deaf instinct regarding formation and adoption of new signs) to that of native English speakers from an educated family being able to see a new word, one which, perhaps, is entirely unfamiliar, and pronounce it perfectly without having heard it spoken aloud before.  He poses the question, "How is it we know that, for example, the street name "Truxel" is pronounced trucks ul?  Why not trueks 'el?  What is it in native language users that makes us able to just "know" these things?"

The answer is unglamorous. It comes down to "exposure." Native language speakers have had thousands of hours of language exposure which have formed a vast mental database of "references."  These references form patterns of language usage against which new language samples are compared for similarities and differences.  A new language sample that deviates too far from standard language samples is instantly recognized as "not fitting in" or not belonging. Conversely, proposed language samples (newly coined words -- "protologisms") may be rejected for being "too similar" to existing language samples.  For example, the "book on face" protologism for "Facebook" is very similar to signs such as "KNOW-(casual)," "don't-KNOW-(casual)," "SEEM/mirror," "TOBACCO," etc.  A native signer is aware of all these existing signs on a subconscious level (and, upon thinking about it, on a conscious level) and thus feels conflicted about assigning a new reference to an existing "database entry." [Example / comparison: "double parking" of cars] [See: minimal pairs = overlapping of 3 parameters] 

Contrast this with the "limited" language exposure of non-native signers.  A non-native signer is more likely to be unaware of the full range of existing signs competing with the protologism.  For example, an advanced ASL student is unlikely to know the sign for "tobacco."  A signing novice will not experience a subconscious conflict regarding the overlapping characteristics (handshape, location, palm orientation, number of holds) of the new sign "FACEBOOK-["book on face"]" and those of of existing but lesser known signs such as the sign "TOBACCO."  Lacking this sense of conflict, the novice signer simply assumes that the native signer is being "stubborn" or "old fashioned" by not accepting this new sign. 



 Horrell-Schmitz, Richard, 3/28/2010, personal correspondence

Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy something from the ASLU "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >


You can learn sign language online at American Sign Language (ASL) University (tm) 
Sign language lessons and resources.  Dr. William Vicars (c)