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Palm Orientation:

Palm orientation refers to the direction in which your palm is pointing (or would be pointing if your hand were open).  Thus, a closed handshape (such as the ASL letter "S") still has a "palm orientation."  Most of the time we use "general" orientations such as: up, down, forward, side, and back.  However, palm orientation is often a combination of those and it often changes quite a bit throughout the production of a sign.

Palm orientation is considered one of the basic "parameters" of a sign, along with "handshape," "location," and "movement."  Some people also include "facial expressions" in that list. (The phrase "facial expressions" would be more accurately replaced in that list by the term  "nonmanual markers" (NMM's for short) which include not only facial expressions, but also body positioning, shoulder movements, head tilts, mouth morphemes, and other uses of the body that using the hands.)

Palm orientation is often used to indicate possesion (who owns what, or what belongs to whom).  It is also used in combination with movement to establish subject verb agreement (who did what to what or whom, e.g. "He asked her.")

Palm orientation is used as part of "reversal of orientation for negation" as in: don't-KNOW, don't-WANT, and don't-LIKE


Garrick Lavon (2011) writes:
My question concerns palm orientation. In the vocabulary review for lesson 21 you sign the word "SUPERVISE" with the right 'K' hand, [palm sideways], on top of the left 'K' hand and together making two small horizontal circles...but in the lesson quiz (question # 35) you sign "supervisor" with the right 'K' hand knuckles UP. I don't mean to be too picayune but i would like to know which version is correct. Thank you so much for the wonderful website,
- Garrick Lavon

Dear Gary,
Hello :)
If you do the sign "supervisor" with palms down it takes on a bit of an "overseer" connotation. As in "watch over."  The reason for this is that the palm down "V" hands are related the "eyeballs" aspect of the sign "look at."  Thus you would have a good sign for a lifeguard "supervising" the pool. That version of the sign has a very "active" feel to it.
If you do the sign "supervisor" with the "K"-hands palm sideways then the "supervisor" sign is more related to the signs "keep" and "take care of" and has a more general "project management" type of feel to it.
Dr. Bill

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