Proficiency in a signed language also requires a command of nonmanual signals. Spoken languages rely on pitch and intonation to clarify the meaning of words. These features of speech can alter the meaning of the sentence You are leaving now to indicate a command (You are leaving now!), a question (You are leaving now?), a threat (You are leaving now? That's what you think!), or a statement of information (You are leaving now. The anchor is up.). Similarly, signed languages use nonmanual signals to alter the meaning of signed phrases. The head tilts forward and the eyebrows rise or squeeze together when a question is asked. The shoulders sag to express exasperation. The eyes look from one part of the signing space to another to indicate subjects and objects. Nonmanual features of ASL can also be used to express adverbs. The concept of doing something carelessly is expressed by protruding the tongue as if pronouncing the sound "th." For example, forming the adverbial "th" at the same time as signing study is one way of saying that a person is not studying hard. Contact signing and, to a lesser extent, English signing also involve the use of nonmanual characteristics.
Signing is an "in the air, off the body" form of communication. For people accustomed to languages based on sounds, it requires a dramatic shift in thinking. Your ability to make this shift will determine how proficient and effective you are with signed communication.
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