Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Adapted from our FAQs on our Instagram account written mainly by Julie A. Hochgesang (thanks Steve Loria for the suggestion to add FAQs here!). Be sure to also check out our other About page with some videos and other resources.
Are you a dictionary? Or a teaching resource?
Thank you for visiting our site and in short, no! We aren't a dictionary nor a teaching resource.. We are a documentation tool that keeps track of visual ASL signs and their ID glosses (unique textual label for each sign) for the annotation of ASL videos of naturalistic ASL use by a wide range of users. We've been developing this for quite a few years now (since 2007 😲). So the goal of the ASL Signbank is to be a collection of ID glosses, which are unique identifiers for signs regardless of how they are modified. We want it to be clear that this form could be used for all of the modified forms. This is why we have weird glosses sometimes - some upper case and some lower case and some really weird matches with the English word(s). They're more mnemonic than truly representative.
If you are here to learn ASL, we thank you for your interest and want to remind you that we should not be your main or even secondary source of learning. Your best bet is with your local ASL community. Remember that using something is the best way to learn. Thanks for wanting to learn this language!
Can you slow down your videos or make it easier to see the signs so I can learn to use them?
We often get requests to slow signs down. Thanks all for your input. As you know, we are not a teaching resource. We actually assume people already know ASL when referring to our resource since the ASL Signbank is meant to support annotation efforts, which should only be done by fluent ASL users. These videos are made to be shown here in the ASL Signbank website and ELAN as a lexicon service. We thought it would be fun to share posts on social media but aren't doing that to teach people how to sign. Rather to demonstrate that ASL, like any other language, has variation. We made this resource for ourselves, for the members of the ASL communities. There are teaching resources for ASL and other signed languages in abundance out there but not many for ourselves.
Also, like any other language, ASL is best acquired through use. So if you need to learn how to produce a sign, we recommend you ask the ASL community you're interacting with. That said, you can visit our website and use it as a supplemental resource. We recommend you look into other online teaching resources like The ASL App or ASL Connect if you haven't found them yet. Enjoy your ASL journey!
Does it matter which hand you use? That is, do you have to copy the handedness of our actors?
No, it doesn't matter. Well... that's a bit of a lie because it's all complicated. Basically, you use your dominant hand (usually the hand you write with) as the active hand but you can switch it up for many reasons (and that's best learned through use in and interaction with your ASL community).
Why do most of your videos/images have no facial expressions? That looks really weird!
Great eye. We absolutely agree that facial expressions and other nonmanual signals are essential to ASL as well as other signed languages in SO MANY WAYS. Since we need to able to serve as an annotation resource, each sign entry needs to be more "abstract" as a baseline of sorts. Glossing is currently the most common way to represent signs in text. This is problematic because we are then using a different linguistic system to represent ASL! 😬 So we try to minimize this issue (see also #Glossgesang on Twitter) by having videos of ASL signs show up with their ID gloss labels (the English words). It's for this reason - the use in the annotation resource - that the production of these signs are rather "unmarked" (they have little to no facial expression or mouthing) because there is so much variation in how signs are actually used. I've seen 'smile' used when frowning. I've seen 'amazing' or 'haha' used totally deadpan. I've lost track of all the different kinds of mouthing movements used with many signs. And so on... For example, we could sign IMPOSSIBLE with a head shake, head nod, angry face, happy face, questioning eyebrows, and so on. How do we even being to pick? It's impossible (heh) so, again while we agree that facial expressions are important and delight in seeing them all the time in our data, we minimize them here to serve the goal of our resource. To see ASL Signbank in action, check this out!
Again, our productions in the ASL Signbank entries are meant to be a reference, kinda like a dictionary. No one expects the words they look up in the dictionary to be inflected with a happy tone or sass. That actually quite limits them! So don't expect the same of our forms. Please also remember that our sign actors were instructed to be expressionless as possible. Please don't hold it against them. Remember that language always looks weird in resources like ours because 🙌 language is meant to be used 🙌 not frozen in little display cases 🙌Instead we encourage you to visit many amazing ASL resources out there with plenty of facial expressions in their examples. So don't be learning how to sign from us! But do be here for the variation we showcase and the consideration we give to the representation of ASL in all forms.
How do you get your signs? Why don't I see my sign here?
Our signs come from our video data, the videos we annotate. That means anytime we see a new ASL sign, we add it to the ASL Signbank so we are able to document its use across the ASL communities. We post many signs familiar to most ASL users and we also post variants that are used by very few people because they show up in our video data. Again, we are a documentation resource and don't make too many decisions about what's correct or not because we want to be able to access all of what is produced on video ("machine-readability"). So we need to be able to label all signs that come up in our data so that means we may get some signs that aren't preferred by a certain ASL community. We are here to observe and preserve ASL in all its forms. Also, we think that documenting any and all variants (as much as possible) is helpful in understanding how language works and recognizing that there is no single variety while celebrating diversity. We use #ASLvariation and #ASLcommunities as our hashtags as a reminder of why our work exists - we believe in documenting ASL as it's really used by the ASL communities and it doesn't look the same across North America or even across communities in the same region. And it's all amazing 🙌🏿🙌🏾🙌🏽🙌🏼🙌🏻🙌
We are a growing resource so we will always be adding ASL variants to our resource. We also will never be able to capture every single variant because ASL as a living language is always changing and not everything can be documented but we will surely do our best. If there's a variant that you don't see, feel free to suggest it to our team.
I know the ASL actor and they don't use the variant they're producing in the ASL Signbank in their personal lives! Why are they using those variants in the ASL Signbank?
Our amazing ASL actors are all early or native users of ASL. We hired them to reproduce the signs from the data (for both quality and confidentiality issues). That means sometimes they are signing signs that are not their own. Please don't hold it against them! We are grateful for their contribution.
That's the wrong sign! I don't use that!
Good (or "correct"/"appropriate"/etc) ASL is in the eye (literally 😂) of the beholder. We document all visual ASL forms we come across in our video data. Remember that we believe that there is no one ASL and that variation is amazing. That very variation reflects who we are and we just love that - that's why we're here.
Who are the people making the ASL Signbank?
We are researchers with, when combined, decades of experience in signed language linguistics and are affiliated with University of Connecticut and Gallaudet University. We work with a large group of annotators, most of who are native or early users of ASL. We also collaborate with the ASL-LEX team and work with other ASL research projects that are interested in ASL annotation. More about us here.
We also acknowledge that documentation is ultimately done through people (like us!) who will have to make decisions that affect the documentation in countless ways. Such decisions are filtered through life experiences, academic training, work and networking. Far too much of the literature and resources are based on white users of ASL, so we are very mindful of representing diversity in our work.
The main caretaker of the ASL Signbank is currently Julie A. Hochgesang and you can email her at julie dot hochgesang at gallaudet dot edu if you have any questions or visit us on Instagram and Twitter.
What's your process for adding ASL variants and how are they organized in the ASL Signbank?
We process all of these signs using our lab procedures, which are aligned with best practices in language documentation for signed languages. We follow many of the same lemmatization principles as the BSL Signbank. We also work with the ASL-LEX and Global Signbank teams and share many coding decisions. We also have a google group if you need to puzzle something out.