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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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1,000 Signs of Life: Basic ASL for Everyday Conversation

By the Editors of Gallaudet University Press


1,000 Signs of Life offers new signers essential vocabulary for conversing in American Sign Language (ASL). It is a great way to start learning ASL on your own; its also a perfect supplement for beginning sign language classes because it allows students to build their signing vocabularies while learning the structure of ASL. 1,000 Signs of Life is arranged into seventeen different topic areas, with the signs organized in English alphabetical order. This format allows you to easily find a sign within a specific category. The word listed first is the one most commonly associated with the sign, but other synonyms are also included.

In addition to the signs, the book includes the American Manual Alphabet, the manual numbers, and an index of all the English words that correspond to the signs in the book. You will notice that some English words are listed several times, but with different page numbers. This is because an English word can have more than one meaning. For example, you can run a race, run the dishwasher, or run a company. In each case, the meaning of run is different, and, therefore, a different sign is used for each meaning.

What Is American Sign Language?

American Sign Language is a visual/gestural language used by many Deaf people in North America. ASL developed naturally over time, and it has all of the same features as other languages. It has specific rules for combining signs into sentences, such as beginning a sentence with a time sign and signing the subject before the verb. You will find other hints throughout the book to help you build sentences. All signed languages are unique and distinct languages that do not depend on speech or sound. They are not based on any spoken language, but like spoken languages, signed languages differ from country to country. ASL has its own lexicon, which includes idioms, slang, stylistic differences, and regional variations.

Some ASL signs are formed with one hand, while others are formed with two hands. Signers use their naturally dominant hand to make one-hand signs. Some signs are made with two hands, but only the dominant hand moves. The illustrations in this dictionary show models with a right-hand dominance. If you are left-handed, simply mirror the sign illustrations.

Sign Illustrations

Each sign entry includes one or more English words. These English words correspond to the conceptual meaning of the sign. Most of the illustrations include arrows that show how the hands move. A double-headed arrow (↔) means that the movement goes back and forth. A bent arrow or double arrows (,) are used when the movement is repeated. Curved arrows () mean that the hands move in a circular motion instead of a straight line. Many signs move from an initial position to a final position. In this book, the first position is usually represented by light lines and the final position by darker lines. When signs have two distinct parts, as in teacher* (teach + person) or believe (think + agree), the parts are sometimes shown in one illustration and sometimes in side-by-side illustrations (see pages 53 and 140).

* ASL signs are written in small capital letters to represent their English meaning.

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