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Sign Language 101: Basic Phrases

Sign Language 101: Basic Phrases

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In this guide, you learn some cultural etiquette so that you won’t feel tongue-tied when speaking to the deaf. You’ll find out sign phrases for hello, how are you?, and many other basic conversational phrases that will help you to feel comfortable and confident to make a connection with deaf people in any type of social situation.

Who Are You?

Some questions you may experience when first meeting a deaf person may sound too personal or direct to you. However, realize that this is the cultural means of gathering information. The purpose of this direct questioning is to find common ground needed for communication and also for the possibility of developing a relationship. Deaf people will try to find the connection or relationship you may have with them, interpreters, and the signer community.

Key Conversational Signs

English: Where do you live?

CS: WHERE YOU LIVE?

WHERE

WHERE

YOU

YOU

LIVE

LIVE

English: My home is in New York City.

CS: MY HOME N-Y-C.

MY

MY

HOME

HOME

N

N

Y

Y

C

C

English: Where are you from?

CS: WHERE YOU FROM?

WHERE

WHERE

YOU

YOU

FROM (a)

FROM (a)

FROM (b)

FROM (b)

English: I grew up in a house in New Jersey.

CS: GROW-UP HOUSE N-J.

GROW-UP

GROW-UP

HOUSE

HOUSE

N

N

J

J

Additional/Interchangeable Signs

FARM, REALLY (TRUE), DOESN’T-MATTER, WHICH

FARM

FARM

REALLY (TRUE)

REALLY (TRUE)

DOESN’T-MATTER

DOESN’T-MATTER

WHICH

WHICH

Repeating the sign, REALLY with a questioning facial expression implies are you really sure?

Fingerspelled Words

Fingerspell A-P-T for apartment and C-I-T-Y for city.

What’s New?

When socializing with a deaf person, you’ll want to ask him how he’s doing and also chat about what you’ve been up to. You’re building a relationship with the person.

to begin a relationship, find common ground, hobbies, topics of interest, and fun things you both like to do. Once you find a topic that you can converse about, you will be able to build on the relationship.

Key Conversational Signs

English: How are you?

CS: HOW YOU?

HOW

HOW

YOU

YOU

English: Fine. What’s up?

CS: FINE. WHAT’S-UP?

FINE

FINE

WHAT’S-UP

WHAT’S-UP

Some parts of America sign FINE once; and other parts sign the hand movement twice.

English: Everything’s the same; nothing’s new.

CS: EVERYTHING SAME (MUNDANE) NOTHING NEW.

EVERY

EVERY

THING

THING

SAME (MUNDANE)

SAME (MUNDANE)

NOTHING (a)

NOTHING (a)

NOTHING (b)

NOTHING (b)

NEW

NEW

Additional/Interchangeable Signs

OLD, KNOW, WHAT-DO, PLEASE, TELL-ME, INFORM-YOU

OLD (a)

OLD (a)

OLD (b)

OLD (b)

KNOW

KNOW

WHAT-DO

WHAT-DO

PLEASE

PLEASE

TELL-ME

TELL-ME

The directional verb sign TELL-ME moves in the direction from you to me. Another example is INFORM-YOU; the movement of this sign starts from me and ends at you in the pronoun space.

However, do not confuse signers by signing the three separate signs for YOU, TELL, ME. This will appear in English as you, tell you, me.

INFORM-YOU (a)

INFORM-YOU (a)

INFORM-YOU (b)

INFORM-YOU (b)

Fingerspelled Words

Fingerspell N-W-S for news, Y-S for yes (when emphasized), and N-O for no (when emphasized).

With these basic sign language phrases you can start a great conversation. Good luck, and happy signing!

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conversational Sign Language Illustrated by Carole Lazorisak and Dawn Donohue