Role shifting

CWren at DOE.K12.GA.US CWren at DOE.K12.GA.US
Wed Jul 11 12:51:27 UTC 2007

One thing I've noticed myself doing is reserving two of the eyebrow faces 
almost exclusively for grammar.  The one with eyebrows up is for topics 
and yes/no questions, the eyebrows down is for wh-questions.  The other 
eyebrows are for 'intonation' where I am taking on a speaker's character, 
or showing some emotion connected to what I am signing.  But, with only a 
couple of exceptions, eyebrows up and eyebrows down, to me, signal 
grammar.  Something like that  helps I think, because you would be able to 
separate out the grammatical information from the other stuff more easily. 
 ASL just carries SO MUCH information on the face!

As I am doing tons of roleshifting with the Cat, I have been thinking 
about something like quotes, where I signal with a symbol that this set of 
facial expressions or this body position starts here,  and down a ways 
another symbol saying it ends here. But I'm not sure that is the best 
solution, just one possible one.  I have been reloading the previous sign 
I just wrote, and deleting everything but the faces for a lot of what I'm 
writing, because the fish is always worried and the cat is always 
cheerfully optimistic.   I have been using the lanes for roleshifting, and 
the "shoulder shift" to signal the start of roleshifting.  If that starts 
the roleshift, and you write in the appropriate lane, then when I shift 
back to center, I have been just moving the signs back to the center lane. 
 Maybe if I added a shoulder line to signal the shoulders go back to 
square?  I haven't done that, because I would not want to mislead the 
reader into thinking that the shoulders are important to this individual 
sign... when they just end the roleshift.  There have been instances where 
I am in a roleshift, but I face strongly right, then turn and face more 
forward while still in the roleshift.  I don't think I have showed that, 
for fear of misleading someone that I am done speaking for the character. 
But I have been writing the signs off to one side or the other, depending 
on who's speaking...  that is the crux of it for me, I think.  I have been 
doing that because I AM signing to one side, but does that unnecessarily 
complicate things?  If I use the shoulder shift symbol or the shoulder 
angle symbol (since after the initial shift they don't move again, just 
stay at that angle) in each sign, and write the sign itself as if my 
shoulders were square, would that make it easier to read? 

Cherie Wren
GSD Staff Interpreter
232 Perry Farm Rd
Cave Spring, GA 30124
706-766-0766 Cell

This message and any included attachments are from the Georgia School for 
the Deaf and are intended only for the addressee(s). The information 
contained herein may include privileged or otherwise confidential 
information. If you have received this message in error, please contact 
the sender immediately, and delete it from your system.

"Stuart Thiessen" <sw at> 
Sent by: owner-sw-l at
07/10/2007 06:19 PM
Please respond to
sw-l at

sw-l at

Re: [sw-l] Role shifting

Well, we can use other marks that indicate what is going on, but I 
would prefer to let the facial expressions and other non-manuals 
already in ASL do the work as much as possible.

For example, I am curious to see if maybe we simply need the period 
symbol and then let the ASL facial expressions handle the questions, 
exclamations, etc.  If that works, then the "period" only means end 
of sentence. We can let the non-manuals handle what kind of sentence 
(statement, question, command, etc.)  I am not saying that we do not 
need the punctuation symbols. But we should check to make sure if we 
do or not.

Some languages like English only use intonation (variation in pitch) 
to indicate questions. Some languages actually have changes in the 
words themselves or they have specific question words that indicate 
that the sentence is a question. For English, since the words 
themselves do not change, we need punctuation to show the difference 
between a statement and a question since you can have a statement and 
a question and the only difference is the intonation. For example, 
look at these three sentences.

(1) You went there.
(2) You went there?
(3) You went there!

(4) Why did you go there?
(5) Why did you go there.
(6) Do you want to go to the store.

Sentences 1-3 require punctuation because we can't figure out the 
meaning of the sentence without knowing its intonation. 
Theoretically, English doesn't need the question mark for sentence 4 
because the word "why" clearly indicates that it is a question. Even 
though I used a period, you can still understand sentence 5 or 6 
because it has the word "why" or the word "do". Both of those words 
signal a question. But it is now the standard practice in written 
English to add the question mark to all questions even if it is 
obviously a question because of sentences like #1-3.

But my belief is that ASL facial expressions are not intonations, but 
"markers" that actually modify the sign (or a sequence of signs). So 
my theory is that ASL may not need punctuation in the same way that 
English does. But that needs to be tested. This may be true for other 
sign languages. But we may have to test it on a language by language 
basis. Each community will have to decide how it wants to handle 
these kinds of situations.



On 10 Jul 2007, at 16:27, Valerie Sutton wrote:

> On Jul 10, 2007, at 2:09 PM, Stuart Thiessen wrote:
>> I should also add that because some of these facial expressions 
>> that "spread" over a sequence of signs is predictable to users of 
>> a sign language, it will become easily read. Until you are used to 
>> it, it might require some "re-reading" initially. But I think over 
>> time one would say, "Hey, a question is coming up or some other 
>> commonly used feature is coming up." and then read it easily 
>> because it is helping you predict what is coming. So that 
>> linguistic knowledge that is available to a user of a sign 
>> language will work alongside the movement writing to make it easy 
>> to read.
> Sure. You probably are right. I will be interested to see how 
> readers do with the Unit Lines, to see if they comprehend them well...
> If so, I will need you to teach me exactly how you use them with 
> vertical columns, because I had trouble writing them personally...
> While you brought up the subject of writing questions, and knowing 
> if a question is coming or not, we actually do have other 
> alternatives that could be used, but I am not asking you to do 
> anything, and we have never tested or used these at all...just a 
> thought...
> This could be a good research project for someone someday...
> The other alternatives are the Question Mark punctuation symbols, 
> that can be put at the beginning and end of a sentence...this also 
> can warn you that the entire sentence is a question.
> We also have Quote Symbols inside Period Symbols! I have no 
> idea...has anyone ever used these?
> Maybe in a few days I can show you how I thought they might be used...
> <Picture 2.png>

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Sw-l mailing list