What's Your Sign for Pizza?
An Introduction to Variation in American Sign Language
We collected a total of 1,618 tokens, or examples, from our videotapes. We looked at each token and noted four things:
Overall we found that people use many more noncitation than citation forms of deaf. In fact, six groups of signers used noncitation forms more than 90 percent of the time. Older signers in Virginia, for example, used noncitation forms 96 percent of the time. Only three groups of signers—young people in Maryland and signers over twenty-five in Massachusetts—used the citation form for the majority of tokens of deaf: It seems that in ASL, as in other languages, people use the language the way they want to use it, regardless of what may be written in dictionaries.
When we analyzed the factors that influence people’s choice of the citation form of deaf or one of the noncitation forms, we found that the most important constraint is the grammatical function of the sign. When deaf is a predicate, it is signed ear-to-chin more often than when it serves some other grammatical function. When it is in a compound, it tends to be contact-cheek. Nouns and adjectives are both ear-to-chin and chin-to-ear. Chin-to-ear and contact-cheek also tend to occur in stories, while ear to chin occurs slightly more often in regular conversation. The location of the preceding and following sign has no effect on the choice between the citation form and a noncitation form. When comparing the two noncitation forms—chin-to-ear and contact-cheek—the grammatical function is still the most important factor, with contact-cheek occurring most often in compound signs. In addition, we found that the location of the following sign is