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Question Grammar in ASL:

(rightward movement of question signs)
Also see:  ASL Grammar (discussion pages)

A student asks:
I was taught that when we ask questions we should put the question sign at the end but I also see people signing ‘HOW SIGN (spell word)?’ putting the question sign at the beginning. Could you maybe explain why?
(edited for flow and clarity)

You will find people online who list rules as if each of their rules is "the" (one right) way to do something -- when actually the rule only describes "one of the various ways to do something."

Putting the question sign at the end of a question is a way to ask a question but not the only way.

For example it is common in ASL to sign "HOW YOU?" (How are you?).

It would seem awkward to put the question sign "HOW" at the end of the question "How are you?"
For example we would not typically sign "YOU HOW?" to ask "How are you?"

That's real life.

In real life it is very common to use the phrase, "HOW SIGN ..." and then fingerspell the concept you want to see signed. If a teacher tells you that is wrong it means the teacher is being prescriptive rather than descriptive. In other words they are prescribing how they think you "ought" to do it rather than describing how it is typically done in the Deaf community. Tip: Sign the way your teacher wants until you get the grade you want -- and then go out in the real world and learn to sign like socially active, adult, native Deaf signers.

ASL is flexible and uses quite a few different sentence structures depending on context and the individual needs of the people communicating. The more context, familiarity, and repetition influencing a signed concept -- the more abbreviated and streamlined the signing tends to become.


Notes:  For more information on this topic, see:

The problem of induction and extrapolation in the teaching of ASL

Also see: ASL Grammar

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