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Facial Expression



Facial expression is important in any face to face communication, but it’s especially important in a signed language, because it has grammatical purposes. Deaf people used facial expression long before linguists gave Sign a name and notated rules of usage. These pre–ASL deaf did it by feel, and we’ll do the same. Pay attention to the facial expression on the DVD, and take a long look at “Singing Faces,” also on the DVD.

One example of the grammatical use of facial expression
is in asking questions, but we’ll discuss that in the chapter on “Questions and Statements.” Sign also use facial expression to emphasize things. For example, a facial expression can mean "very."

VERY (big)




                    ASL sign illustration and video





   ASL sign illustration and video




       ASL sign illustration and video





         ASL sign illustration and video





         ASL sign illustration and video





                     ASL sign illustration and video


  cheeks puffed out
mouth open
wide open eyes
generally expanding the face
VERY (small)

cheeks drawn in
puckered narrow lips
narrow eyes
generally contracting the face


Notice that “very” is an English adjective or adverb. As such, very can affect any English noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Think of it, Sign can enhance anything with just one facial expression. If it’s a lot or a little, express it on the face.

By the way, there is a sign for very, but it’s not necessary.

                                    ASL sign illustration and video - VERY



All the synonyms of very are expressed more meaningfully with a facial expression. Also, a facial expression doesn’t clutter
the sign space, making the signs easier to read. As to English, it’s said that words convey only 10 to 15% of the meaning. The rest pass through our tone and body expression. The same is true in Sign. For example, the sign big:



The Sign dictionary is very specific about how to sign big, or any sign, but the actual construction of a sign is determined by the context of the message. The context for big might require the legs to be slightly spread, feet gripping the ground with extraordinary intensity. The eyes might shut tightly as the shoulders slowly rise to a great climax, cheekbones rising into a horrendous grimace as the head slowly quivers left and right; all while the arms, bit by bit, extend slowly and inevitably to their full length. The whole sign might take six seconds to complete. Now that’s huge!

The illustration of big on page 51 includes "huge" as a synonym, implying that big and huge are the same sign. This is not exactly true. Not shown in the illustration are the speed and length of sign travel, along with the body and facial movements. The illustration is merely a generality that may, with the proper body and facial expression, produce any of the synonyms. This is an important point, and true for many of the illustrations of Sign Can You. As English words convey only 10 to 15% of the meaning, so too the signs of Sign.

And what of the other 85 to 90%? A facial expression may be all that’s needed. A facial expression can say it all.Take a look at “Singing Faces” on the DVD.

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