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ASL Linguistics: protologism:

A protologism is a new lexical item.  In spoken languages a protologism is a new or recently coined word. In visual languages a protologism is a new sign.

A lexical item is a single word or sign, a part of a word, or a phrase (or catena which means a connected series of related things), that make up the vocabulary of language (in other words the "lexicon" of the language).

Examples are cat, traffic light, take care of, by the way, and it's raining cats and dogs.

Definition of protologism:
protologism (plural protologisms) n.
A newly coined word or phrase defined in the hope that it will become common; a recently created term possibly in narrow use but not yet acknowledged.
Source: > wiki > protologism

 An ASL protologism is a new "proposed" sign that hasn't yet spread hasn't been widely recognized in or adopted by the Deaf Community.

Compare with: neologism

Note from William G. Vicars: 
I would suggest that a protologism doesn't have to be newly coined or even recent.  I would suggest that a protologism could simply be a word (or sign) that was invented and hasn't received any traction and hasn't spread -- regardless of the age of the word.  Visualize an immortal baby being born thousands of years ago and accidentally falling into an ice crevice and never growing up.  It would still be "a baby" and if unthawed and fed it would grow.  Similarly someone could have invented a word a thousand years ago, wrote it down along with its definition into a notebook and then put that notebook in a box, and buried it.  The word would be a protologism regardless of how "old" it is.



I saw sign for Buddhism online but no one in my Deaf chat or anywhere else I've signed with knows the sign.
If a sign happens in the empty woods--and no one is around to see it--is it still a sign?

Short answer:

Snarky answer:
So, are you saying that if you and your crew need to personally approve of all signs for the signs to be legit?
Good to know. I'll send you a list for your approval so I can start using them.

Longer somewhat more thoughtful answer:
Vocabulary that is used by a particular group of people is called "lingo."

Vocabulary that is used by a particular group of people to discuss a particular subject, profession, or area of expertise is called "jargon."

For example, Google engineers have their own lingo full of Google-related jargon.

Just because 99+% of the world doesn't know what Google engineers are talking about doesn't mean "Google-internal terminology" isn't legit and/or aren't "real words."

Think of the legitimacy of a sign as being like a table. If you have one seemingly legit source for a sign you now have the equivalent of a table with one leg stuck down into the ground. The table is upright…looks like a table, functions like a table, but is only as trustworthy as the strength and depth of that one leg.

Then if other sources become apparent that agree with a specific sign usage that is the equivalent of adding more legs to a table.

For example, suppose a native-Deaf life-long practicing Buddhist tells you the sign for Buddhism is "an index finger tapping a 7/8-corna hand." A generally good approach is to place that sign on your mental list of signs that are probably legit unless overwhelming evidence points in some other direction.

Then if you see the sign added to a reputable ASL dictionary -- that is another very strong leg for that sign. Then if you see the sign being used by other fluent Deaf signers in online videos you have yet another leg to your table. At some point your table becomes so strong that you can have full confidence in that table and would have no problem eating off of it and/or even climbing up and standing on it.

When two or more people start bandying about a new sign -- that sign is a "protologism."

Then if and / when that sign starts spreading it has evolved into a "neologism."

If it only spreads to or remains limited to a particular group or profession it has evolved into being "lingo" or jargon."

If the sign continues to spread into and be adopted by the Deaf Community at large then it will have become a somewhat new sign.

If the sign continues to be used for a substantial period of time by the majority or at least a very significant number of the Deaf Community it may become "the" sign for something. (Not "a new sign" not "a sign I've seen" not "my friend uses this sign" -- but rather it simply becomes "the" generally accepted sign for something.)

Then someday if and / when language has continued its relentless march forward far enough the sign will eventually become "archaic" and start getting labeled as "that is the old sign for" and/or "we used to sign it this way but the new sign is such and such."

For more information on this topic, see:






Also see: neologism.htm
Also see: catena
Also see: nonce sign
Also see: lexical item


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