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Michigan Sign Language (MiSL) vs U.S.-wide common American Sign Language

American Sign Language has a lot of "regional versions" wherein the sign used for a concept in a particular region or location doesn't match the sign that is used for that concept more generally throughout the rest of the American Sign Language community.

Michigan has a number of "regionalisms" that are significantly different from how much of the rest of the ASL signers sign.  This is not a matter of right and wrong.  It is simply a fact of how language works.

I will list a few examples here that have been shared with me by various people who live in or are from Michigan. 

Keep in mind that language changes.  I'm not going to claim first hand knowledge of the MiSL versions of these signs -- simply that I have been told directly by people who "do" live in and/or are from Michigan.  I'm 100% totally happy to adjust or add versions to this list if supported by significant Deaf-centric input. (Meaning, I'm not overly interested in what Hearing students recall having learned since they often recall things differently from what they were actually taught.  Rather I respect and value the input of Deaf folks who live in the target region and use sign language as their main form of interactive in-person communication on a regular basis).



ASL version:  Looks like showing the outline of a garbage bag
Comment from Lifeprint-ASLU FB group:
1. This is the sign I was taught for garbage, which looks awfully similar to the sign for episcopalian (which is my denomination). The first time I learned this sign for trash I was like "Are you calling my religion trash?" Haha! Now, I'm interning in Florida and they use the claw hand on the side of the head. I was a little relieved.

MiSL version: Loose claw hand banging on the corner of the forehead.
Note: Comment from Lifeprint-ASLU FB group:
1. In my area, people use the cabbage sign (claw hand on side of head) for garbage.
2. Funny story - I'm from the Pacific NW, where that sign just means "cabbage/lettuce". I went to RIT for college, where my roommate eventually asked me to "throw out the cabbage/lettuce". I was very confused because there was no lettuce or cabbage anywhere in our room! Finally, she pointed to the trash can and signed "cabbage/lettuce" again, so I looked inside... still no lettuce or cabbage! I was so confused! haha Then I finally learned that it was another sign for "garbage/trash". Whoops!
3. Someone commented that the X moving forward from under the chin means "trash" in Michigan.
At least one Deaf person in Michigan thought the ASL sign for garbage meant "elbow."

ASL version:  An "X" moving forward from under the chin.

MiSL version: An "X" tapping the front of the chin.


ASL version: Tap the elbow
MiSL version: ???

ASL version: Uses two index fingers and twists or jabs them toward each other
MiSL version: Twists the thumb tip of an open-A hand on the chin. (See: )
Note, regarding the MiSL regional version: Comments at the Lifeprint-ASLU FB group mentioned:
1. "I'm in Michigan too. I usually see it with an "x" handshape. Usually meaning sore or ache."
2. "Learned this as sign for hurt in late 90s, once for hurt double movement for suffer. In Maryland."
3. "Costello shows it for HURT, related to patience/suffer/tolerate group of signs."
4. "I have been taught this one, here in Canada. We have a lot of variation due to people going to school in various places."
5. "Nope never seen it used in SW Louisiana or SE Texas"
6. "I see it and use it for SORE/HURT but definitely not for INJURY."



as a lexicographer I "love" all the variations there in Michigan. My recommendation is for you to keep a "diary" or "log" of the differences. Then later on email me or contact me with your findings and I'll see if I can add them to the "notes" section of my various pages. I recommend you compare the versions of signs you learn in Michigan with the following websites:
and of course my site or channel. Check out:
(That is a temporary page but should be posted for a while).

Regardless of how the rest of the world signs something, you should sign it how your local native Deaf adult population signs it!
(When in Rome and all that jazz.)

Also, I'm going to build a page at specifically for notes regarding the regional variations there in Michigan. I'm sure that most folks locally will chafe (be rubbed wrong) by someone calling "their" version a "regionalism" (or regional version) as opposed to it being "THE" way to sign it. Everyone likes to think their way is the "right way." These days I don't think of "any" of my signs as "right" any more -- simply the version I see used most often in the greatest number of areas. As time goes on I occasionally have to move a version higher or lower on my individual sign pages at Lifeprint to reflect the increased or decreased popularity of a sign over time.
Warm regards!
- Dr. Bill


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