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Notes and discussion regarding verbs in American Sign Language (ASL)


In a message dated 9/15/2005 11:53:26 AM Pacific Daylight Time, smdaniluk@ writes:
Dr. Vicars,
Is there somewhere I could find a list of inflecting and non-inflecting verbs? Thank you.
Suzanne Daniluk

Well, first of all I think we are going to need to specify what kind of "inflection" your are talking about.  "Inflecting" a sign simply means to modify or change the sign.  I'm scratching my head to think of ANY sign (verb or not) that can't be inflected in some way.
I think you might be wanting a list verbs that can be inflected (changed) to indicate the subject and/or object of the sentence.  This is called "verb agreement."
So, what you may be seeking is a list of "agreement verbs" and a list of verbs which do not show "agreement."

Verbs can indicate the subject or object of a sentence by inflecting the palm orientation (which direction your palm is pointing), the location of the sign, or both.

Note: Just because a verb isn't typically modified to show subject/verb agreement, that doesn't mean that you can't modify the verb in other ways.  For example, the sign LIKE can be inflected to mean "don't like" by reversing the orientation.  This still doesn't establish who is the subject or what is the object, but it does change the meaning of the sign LIKE to the opposite.


In a message dated 9/15/2005 2:12:27 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Dr. Vicars,

Yes, I see we're discussing "agreement verbs". My
books use the terms "inflecting verbs", or
"directional verbs" vs. plain verbs--same thing. My
question is whether anyone has compiled a
comprehensive list of agreement verbs that I could
access. When I was learning French, I found it helpful
to study a list of irregular verbs, as a learning
tool. Wondered if there's something similar out there
for ASL. Thanks!  
I haven't seen a "comprehensive list."
Your emails to me may eventually be of great benefit to future learners though because I will keep this in mind for any future curriculum development.
Plus, just because I haven't seen one doesn't mean that there isn't a dictionary out there that doesn't have that information.  I'll keep my eyes open.

Below is the beginnings of a list. If people want to contribute, feel free to send me your lists and I'll add them.

Plain Verbs:
(and many more)

Agreement verbs:

(and many more)

Spatial / Locative Verbs: 
[Where you do the sign indicates where the action is taking place.  For example if I do the sign PUT up high, then that means that something is being placed in a high area.  If I do the sign #HURT (lexicalized fingerspelling) near my elbow it would me my elbow hurts.]



Depicting verbs:
Many different classifier predicates could be listed here.

In a message dated 6/23/2007 5:30:56 AM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
Is the sign EXAMPLE directional? I mean if i started it away from me and brought it towards me then would it mean "You show/give me an example"? Or is it not directional and only moves away from the body and only means "example"? The reason I ask is because EXAMPLE is an initialized form of SHOW, so I was wondering if the same "usage rules" applied to initialized forms of words.  
- Roo
Hi Roo,
The word "show" is a verb.  You can establish "verb agreement" via "directionality."  That means you can modify the movement of the sign "SHOW" to indicate who is showing what to whom.
The word "example" is a noun thus we do not have the same freedom to employ directionality that we would with a verb.
"Example" is somewhat of a special case though because it does have a rare "verb" form: "exemplify."
So, technically, you could construct a sentence along the lines of, "Would you mind exemplifying that for me?"  Which would make a case for employing directionality with the sign "example."
On a personal level, as I sit here signing to myself, playing with the sign, (my family are used to seeing me "sign to myself" and have long since given up worrying whether it is insanity or some other reason) and seeing what "feels" right--I note that it feels okay to sign "give an example to" as one sign/movement, but it "feels" a little "off" to sign "give me an example" using just one sign/movement but still passable.
Dr. V




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Let's perhaps discuss some vocabulary here:

The word "inflect" is not a generic equivalent for the word "change."
All inflections of a sign involve changing the sign.
All changes of a sign do not necessarily involve inflecting the sign.

Let's use the word inflect as it is actually defined in the dictionary:
1. A change in the form of a word (typically the ending) to express a grammatical function or attribute such as tense, mood, person, number, case, and gender.
2. The modulation of intonation or pitch in the voice.

In ASL that would amount to:

Changes to the articulation of a sign have some of these results:
1.  Inflection: The sign remains in the same general word class (noun, verb, etc.) but acquires additional  
2.  Derivation: